Superstorm Sandy has many similarities to Hurricane Katrina, which provided one of the greatest storm surges in US history. Documenting the damages is a critical aspect which insurance companies are now under the gun to perform in a timely fashion. An important facet of this documentation process is knowledge of what transpired during the storm such as where the flooding occurred. The damages to the buildings/ structures and contents resulting from the storm must be summarized. And, finally the cause and extent of these damages must be itemized. In some instances recommendations for repairs should also be noted. Engineers also have the unique obligation to inform parties of any situations which may be of danger to the life and safety of individuals who may live or be entering any of the structures.
The Investigative Engineers Association (I-ENG-A) has been gathering information about the area, collecting intel to assist member firms in their documentation efforts for their insurance and legal clients. I-ENG-A was able to gain access to areas that the National Guard was only allowing limited access to (residents and those escorted in by residents) in order to collect data. I-ENG-A has also gathered preliminary direct and indirect intelligence information on the type and extent of damages on the Jersey Shore and Mainland. Included in this article is a summary of findings.
On the Jersey Shore, Hurricane Sandy was both a flood and wind event. Many homeowners and businesses did not have flood insurance. This is already resulting in some level of confusion and fraud which will generate the need for Forensic and Engineering Investigations.
As related to the Jersey Mainland, reportedly, direct wind related damages to roof coverings were minor. There was a high frequency of trees falling on roofs. This resulted in some roof covering and roof framing/truss damages. In some instances, the latter may require an engineering inspection for the purpose of developing a repair protocol.
Questionable claims involving damages to shingles will arise, but perhaps not immediately. Wind related damages to vinyl siding was also observed and were mostly minor, except in the areas hardest hit (Ortley Beach Area where homes were totaled). The storm surge was significant and resulted in extensive and widespread flooding. This resulted in displacement of some decks, docks, and boats. There will be questions regarding the soundness of the foundation systems of structures and whether or not there was any displacement of foundation members within the crawlspace. Questionable claims involving those not having flood insurance are already developing in order to obtain coverage from the homeowners’ or business’ policies. There will likely be some that claim that either: wind pressure resulted in pipes bursting causing interior damages and/or claims that doors and windows were broken allowing for rain water intrusion to occur, or that back up of sewage caused interior damages. Specific lab analysis of building materials and/or vehicle materials may be required to determine if damages were caused by salt water, sewage, rainwater, or potable water.
Boats were displaced by a combination of the wind/flood action. Some of the boats/vessels sustained damages. In addition, some of the boats impacted buildings, fences, and other structures resulting in damages to these items. Damages to the boats and damages caused by the boats must all be documented. Transportation of the boat/vessel to a secure location may be required as well as storage. Many of the roofs were observed to have several layers of roof covering. Repair vs Replacement issues will develop because of the underlying material. Most of the residential structures were noted to have interior plaster finishes. In some cases pre-existing cracks will likely be claimed as wind vibration related damages.
It is likely that significant environmental issues will evolve as a result of Sandy. For example, many of the old finish materials and roof coverings were made from asbestos. This will require abatement.
The challenges facing investigative / forensic engineers who will be investigating these claims include, the fact that the cleanup and discarding of items which may be evidence is in full swing. Also, the roof height on many of these structures are either 2 or 3 stories high. Sufficient tools and equipment will be needed by both adjusters and engineers to respond to these cases. In addition, some of the crawl spaces appeared very tight. This will require some agility.