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Overview

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, forensics is the application of engineering principles to the investigation of failures or other performance problems. Forensic engineering also involves testimony on the findings of these investigations before a court of law. The consequences of failure may give rise to an action under either criminal or civil law. This includes health and safety legislation, the laws of contract and/or product liability and the laws of tort. These engineers examine evidence from the scene of an incident and then use their analysis, investigative skills to determine what actually happened, and where the fault lies. Consequently, their determinations, subject to a structural failure, can lead to safer construction.

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Education Path

Students who are interested in forensic engineering schools will need to seek training to become an engineer first and then follow this up with coursework in forensic science and/or criminal justice. For example, students could choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. Many will start with a degree in civil engineering since there are no specific degrees in this science at the undergraduate level. During the coursework, an aspiring forensic engineer needs to learn how to determine the events leading up to a structural or design failure, therefore, he or she must be familiar with many different types of materials, products, components, and structures before entering into the profession.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in structural engineering studies the design of load-bearing structures. Civil, mechanical, and aerospace engineering all involve components of structural engineering. Within civil engineering, it is largely the implementation of mechanics as they relate to the design of large structures. These structures include buildings, bridges, walls, dams, and tunnels. These engineers design structures with the purpose that they do not collapse or behave in undesirable ways while serving their useful functions.

A degree in civil engineering is another option. General civil engineers plan, design, supervise the construction of, operate, maintain, inspect, and manage many of the physical facilities and systems in both public and private sectors. These facilities include buildings, commercial facilities, industrial facilities, power transmission facilities, transportation facilities, tunnels, water collection facilities, water treatment facilities, and waste disposal facilities, to name a few. This broad-based education provides you with the knowledge of several engineering specialties.

Master’s Degree

At the next level, a Master of Science in Civil Engineering offers a variety of concentrations. These concentrations may include construction engineering and management, engineering mechanics, environmental engineering and water resources, forensic (structural) engineering, geotechnical engineering, and structural engineering, or combinations of these areas. The structural engineering option could provide a choice of courses: fundamental mechanics courses, e.g. Advanced Mechanics of Solids and Theory of Vibrations, to more advanced structural analysis (e.g. Elastic and Plastic Analysis of Structures) and design (e.g. Advanced Design of Concrete and Steel Structures).

One school offers a master’s degree in Forensic (Structural) Engineering. Coursework focuses on engineering investigation and the determination of the causes of structural failures of buildings, bridges and other constructed facilities. You learn about the investigation of failures and the pertinent legal aspects. The legality of structural failures is an integral part of forensic engineering. The catastrophic failure of any structure that results in loss of life and injuries will likely become a litigated matter.

A typical curriculum in forensic engineering will study the design of concrete structures, the design of steel structures, and multi-story buildings, geotechnical fundamentals, and infrastructure risk management, to name a few. You may be able to select appropriate courses from other departments, such as Mechanical Engineering and Earth and Environmental Engineering, and Geotechnical Engineering.

An engineer’s success in the field of forensic engineering is the result of the combination of many components in his or her background. In addition to your formal education in engineering, you need hands-on experience in analysis, design, construction, testing, inspection, condition assessment, and problem-solving.

Certification

Once you establish your career in this field, you can apply to the IBFES (International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences) for certification. It is an independent board that certifies professionals with a specialty in the forensic engineering sciences. Certification is only conferred upon individuals who meet the strict criteria established by the IBFES.   The applicant’s education, professional forensic experience, competence in technical matters and ethics issues, and general knowledge are all considered during a process of peer review, culminating in both written and oral examination.

You can also become certified by the Structural Engineering Certification Board (SECB). By submitting to the certification process, an engineer can demonstrate the unique qualities necessary to be certified in the practice of Structural Engineering. Applicants need to have at least a B.S. in an engineering discipline and have successfully completed a total of at least 36 semester hours covering at least 6 of 9 subject areas in structural analysis and related subjects. By submitting to the certification process, an engineer can demonstrate the unique qualities necessary to be certified in the practice of Structural Engineering.