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AME 495S - Senior Colloquium

Engineering Librarian & CAPLA Liaison

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Paula C Johnson
Main Library A403

Engineering Disasters

Taking Lessons From What Went Wrong (NYT)

Primary Causes of Engineering Disasters
The primary causes of engineering disasters are usually considered to be human factors (including both 'ethical' failure and accidents),
design flaws (many of which are also the result of unethical practices), materials failures, extreme conditions or environments, and, most commonly and importantly -- combinations of these reasons.

M. Matousek and J. Schneider

Purpose of Disaster Case Studies
Principles of engineering ethics are easy to formulate but sometimes hard to apply.  Suppose, for example, that an engineering team has made design choice X, rather than Y, and X leads to a bad consequence—someone was injured.  To determine if the engineers  acted ethically, we have to answer the question of whether they chose X rather than Y because 1) X appeared to be the better technical choice, or 2) X promoted some other end (for example, financial) in the organization. Abstract ethics principles alone cannot answer this question; we must delve into the technical details surrounding the decision.  The purpose of case studies in general is to provide
us with the context—the technical details—of an engineering decision in which and ethical principle may have been violated.

Mark P. Rossow, P.E., Ph.D.

Sample Case Study: World Trade Center