Why is this problem important?
Petroski (1994) has emphasized the importance of studying structural failures in engineering, by supporting the idea that there is much one can learn from the bad experiences that have occurred in the recent or distant past. The underlying assumptions are that failures associated with design errors have been repeated throughout the history of structural engineering, therefore learning about what happened in the past will decrease the risk of future constructions. A similar argument was advanced by Sibly and Walker (1977), who investigated structural failures in order to understand patterns behind these failures. The status of a theory that may identify causes of structural failures has been recently reviewed by the PI (Godoy et al. 2001).
The importance of integrating lessons learned from case studies of structural failures into the civil engineering undergraduate education has been emphasized by several authors (see, for example, Rendon-Herrera 1998, Delatte & Rens 2002). The ASCE-TCFE (American Society of Civil Engineering, Technical Council on Forensic Engineering) encourages universities to include forensic engineering and failure case studies in Civil Engineering education because a gap was recognized within this area in the engineering education. The results of a survey conducted in 1998 by the ASCE-TCFE to ABET-accredited Civil Engineering schools, supported an initiative to include failure studies in the curricula; however, many schools responded that they did not know how to do that, or that they did not have case-studies on which the teaching could be based. “The lack of instructional material was cited as a reason that failure analysis topics were not being taught” (Delatte & Rens 2002, pp. 99).
Thus, the project addresses a recognized need in Civil Engineering education. This problem is not restricted to Civil Engineering, because failures and the possibility of learning from them can be seen as a learning opportunity in nearly all branches of Engineering.