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Hover to play key role in Surfside collapse investigation

Concrete expert Ken Hover, Ph.D. ’84, professor in the College of Engineering’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will play a key role on an expert team assembled by the federal government to investigate the June 24, 2021, partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on Aug. 25 announced the composition of the team, which will be led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division in NIST’s Engineering Laboratory.

Ken Hover

“This team has an incredible amount of experience in forensic engineering, having studied many building failures,” Mitrani-Reiser said. “We are going into this with an open mind and will examine all hypotheses that might explain what caused this collapse. Having a team with experience across a variety of disciplines, including structural and geotechnical engineering, materials, evidence collection, modeling and more, will ensure a thorough investigation.”

NIST’s investigation aims to determine the technical cause of the collapse and, if indicated, to recommend changes to building codes, standards and practices, or other appropriate actions to improve the structural safety of buildings. The team’s work will be organized around specific projects that seek to understand the full history of the building, including its design plans, construction, materials, modifications, site and environment, from its design to the moment of collapse.

Hover will co-lead the investigation’s materials science project, which will work to evaluate the strength, appropriateness, uniformity and deterioration of materials used in specific building features and at different floors in the building. These findings will be compared with the characteristics specified in the building design, and the data will be used in the partial collapse analyses and simulation.

“One of the things that makes me a good fit for this team is my extended professional design and construction experience, in addition to my years of teaching and research,” Hover said. “I think I can play a valuable role here.”

After earning his doctorate in civil engineering at Cornell, Hover joined the faculty in 1984. He has been active in the concrete design and construction industry for more than 40 years, with a focus on the analysis and rehabilitation of deteriorated concrete. He is a distinguished member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a past president of the American Concrete Institute, a fellow of the Institute of Concrete Technology in the United Kingdom, and has been named one of the “Ten Most Influential People in the Concrete Construction Industry” by Concrete Construction magazine.

He has previous experience responding to disasters. In 2010, Hover went to Haiti within days of a massive earthquake centered just outside of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Because of Weill Medical College’s extensive collaborations in Haiti, then-Cornell President David Skorton needed an immediate inventory of which clinics were safe to use. Hover’s expertise helped ensure safe access to emergency care for injured Haitians.

Hover said he feels honored to be part of the newly formed NIST investigation team and is ready to do whatever he can to determine what factors played a role in the collapse, identify current safety issues and make recommendations to help avoid future failures.

Given the scale and complexity of the investigation, NIST indicated that a final report may take multiple years to complete. In the meantime, NIST plans to provide regular updates on its progress, including through public meetings with the NCST Advisory Committee, annual reports to Congress and progress reports.

Chris Dawson is a writer for the College of Engineering.

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