Lessons amid the Rubble: An Introduction to Post-Disaster Engineering and Ethics

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The aftermath of September 11, 2001, brought the subject of engineering-failure forensics to public attention as had no previous catastrophe. In keeping with the engineering profession's long tradition of building a positive future out of disasters, Lessons amid the Rubble uses the collapse of the World Trade Center towers to explore the nature and future of engineering education in the United States.

Sarah K. A. Pfatteicher draws on historical and current practice in engineering design, construction, and curricula to discuss how engineers should conceive, organize, and execute a search for the reasons behind the failure of man-made structures. Her survey traces the analytical journey engineers take after a disaster and discusses the technical, social, and moral implications of their work. After providing an overview of the investigations into the collapse of the Twin Towers, Pfatteicher explores six related events to reveal deceptively simple lessons about the engineering enterprise, each of which embodies an ethical dilemma at the heart of the profession. In tying these themes together, Pfatteicher highlights issues of professionalism and professional identity infused in engineering education and encourages an explicit, direct conversation about their meaning.

Sophisticated and engagingly written, this volume combines history, engineering, ethics, and philosophy to provoke a deep discussion about the symbolic meaning of buildings and other structures and the nature of engineering.

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Editorial Reviews

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Karl D. Stephan

Just the sort of resource that everyong from civil engineers to historians of technology will find helpful in guiding students to appreciate some of the complexities and subtleties of the profession and practice of engineering.


The aim is to blend history, engineering, ethics, and philosophy into the design process with implications for the future curricula of engineering design courses.

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine
Just the sort of resource that everyong from civil engineers to historians of technology will find helpful in guiding students to appreciate some of the complexities and subtleties of the profession and practice of engineering.

— Karl D. Stephan

Technology and Culture - Wang Nan

Pfatteicher's retrospective on more than 100 years of engineering history in North America through the lens of the 9/11 experience is a unique contribution to engineering self-understanding. It is a valuable contribution to ongoing reform in engineering education.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Sarah K. A. Pfatteicher is a research professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an assistant dean in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction Why? 1

1 "A Very Imperfect Process" Engineering Problem-Solving 101 10

2 "Finding Hope in the Ruins" A Short History of Engineering Disasters 36

3 "A New Era" The Limits of Engineering Expertise in a Post-9/11 World 62

4 "Safe from Every Possible Event" How to Strive for the Impossible 82

5 "Architectural Terrorism" Why Moderation Matters 100

6 "These Material Things" Passion and Power in Engineering 115

Conclusion "More Time for the Dreaming": Engineering Curricula for the Twenty-First Century 135

Acknowledgments 141

Notes 145

Recommended Reading 177

Index 181

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