Emergency Engineering: Focus on FORENSICS

No two days are ever the same for the engineers of BIA’s Forensics Department.

On call 24/7 to respond to emergencies, during typical work hours the five-member department provides a range of services including structural investigation, damage assessment, design of repairs, and litigation support. 

When tragedy struck Allentown in February 2011 and put the Lehigh Valley in the national news, our forensic team was called into action.  A late-night gas explosion caused a conflagration at 13 and Allen Streets, killing five people, injuring dozens, and forcing over 350 residents in the surrounding area to evacuate their homes.  

Within hours after the accident, our Forensic team members were performing structural inspections at the Towers East and Gross Towers - two high-rise apartments for senior citizens owned by the Allentown Housing Authority directly adjacent to the explosion site apartment buildings.  Over two days, BIA engineers inspected the common areas of the building as well as every apartment to determine the structural integrity of the buildings. Fortunately, only localized deficiencies were reported including broken windows and door frames, laterally displaced window and door frames and cracked wall finishes.


Earlier that year, after a series of heavy snowfalls, the team found itself on the roof of a 500,000-square-foot warehouse whose owner feared the possibility of imminent collapse.   “The owner believed the situation was so dire that two cranes and 12 men were ordered to remove snow Saturday morning.  We needed to get out there before the men started working.  At sunrise on a Saturday morning,  our Forensic team made an emergency structural roof snow assessment  We used our snow-coring tool to determine the snow load on the roof was safe - putting the owner’s mind at ease.”


A.J. Fritsch recently discussed a non-emergency project that resulted in helping the Allentown police department to solve a crime.  While conducting a structural inspection of a parking garage, A.J. and Andy Munas, E.I.T., needed to have all cars removed from the top level.  When employees and visitors cleared the deck of their cars, one automobile remained.  The police were called who identified it as a stolen vehicle, which was towed away for further investigation.

Led by Greg Marks, PE, who helped to found the department, BIA’s forensic engineers work with insurance companies, project owners, institutional and commercial clients, and other design professionals.  “This department thrives due to the growing need for fast and decisive engineering response to problems with existing buildings and structures...and that is what we provide ,” states Greg.