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Army Corps Engineers Among Disaster Experts Aiding Surfside Rescue Effort

Rescue workers search in the rubble Saturday at the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla. The building partially collapsed on Thursday.
Rescue workers search in the rubble Saturday at the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla. The building partially collapsed on Thursday.

As rescue workers continue searching through rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, they are being assisted by a corps of engineers whose roots go back to the revolutionary war.

A team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including experts in structures and geology, along with logistics planners, began arriving two days after the building fell.

“One of the big challenges is just trying to ensure that everyone has the same information that they're operating from and has the same understanding of whatever accident plan is guiding the operations,” said Corps Communications Chief John Campbell.

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The team, whose help was requested by state officials, will assist investigators with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the agency trying to determine what caused the building to suddenly collapse.

The Corps team may also help guide rescue work as the rubble mound is excavated, to ensure the search for victims doesn’t destabilize the pile or parts of the building that remain standing.

Just after 2 a.m. Thursday, work was halted after three monitors detected movement, said Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky. Work was resumed Thursday evening.

“They could provide some analysis of what they think might happen if certain actions are taken and the risk associated with that,” Campbell said.

Two engineers specialize in geology, a particular area of expertise for Corps engineers whose work often focuses on coastal resilience and flood control. They may also help evaluate the oceanfront location for signs of risk, Campbell said.

“Obviously the foundation of any structure interacts with the soil and with the geology of any particular area. I'll use the term marriage, between foundation and the geological features,” he said. “The geotech engineers provide expertise on the geological features and the risks that might be associated with those particular features.”

That expertise may also play a part in determining whether the location played a part in the collapse.

While the Corps is better known for massive civil works projects, the agency has a centuries old history in responding to disasters that have included the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Oklahoma City bombing and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.