Photo by Adam Panek
Dan Wojnowski, a new senior vice president in the Forensics practice in Chicago, brings a different type of skill set to Thornton Tomasetti. With a background in civil, structural and metallurgical engineering, including a Ph.D. in the latter, the 34-year industry veteran has a holistic understanding of, and approach to, structural investigations.
“In many structural failures, a material property component is often causal to the incident,” Dan said. “My background allows me to understand, predict and analyze the interaction of the environment with the various building materials and to get to the root cause of the event.”
Working with principals Lance Parker and William Bast, Managing Principal John Abruzzo and Associate Principal Elisabeth Malsch, Dan will provide additional senior-level expertise to the practice and grow our market share of forensics work in the Midwest.
Dan was most recently a principal with Engineering Systems Inc. in Aurora, Illinois. During his 29-years there, he held such diverse roles as practice group leader/director, corporate treasurer, director of corporate operations, director of Illinois operations and manager of civil/construction materials engineering.
He has worked on investigations involving a range of structures, including commercial and residential buildings, bridges, industrial plants and structures, mobile and stationary cranes and suspended and fixed scaffolding. For the past several years, he has specialized in construction site safety/OSHA incident evaluations, agricultural structural failures and building code compliance evaluations. He is also experienced in residential and commercial premises safety.
Recently, Dan talked about his background and what he hopes to accomplish at the firm.
What brought you to Thornton Tomasetti?
I was drawn to the firm for several reasons, including the national and international exposure of the Forensics practice and the synergies between my client base and Thornton Tomasetti’s expansive client list, which includes national and local construction companies. I was also impressed by the firm’s structural analysis and visualization/graphics expertise.
Can you talk about your background?
During the past 34 years, my career has transitioned from primarily property loss investigations to litigation support for construction-related structural failures and accidents. My areas of specialization include construction site safety/OSHA incident evaluations, agricultural structural failures and building code compliance evaluations. I believe I may be the only person currently at the firm with degrees in civil/structural engineering and metallurgical engineering. My skill set and experience will complement the PLC and forensic markets. Many investigations involve a materials issue, such as mechanical properties, corrosion, or welding, where the understanding of materials science can broaden the investigation and provide added value to the client.
Site safety and incident evaluations is a new area for Thornton Tomasetti. Can you explain this work?
During a construction project, many trades work at the site at the same time. The safety of each employee and construction worker is of the utmost importance, and certain customs and practices as well as regulations have been developed to help assure their safety. Each employer from owner-general contractor to subcontractors and sub-subcontractors have specific responsibilities and roles in the area of safety. As a consultant, I investigate the cause of the accident and provide an opinion on the competence of each party with respect to their safety roles as well as whether an employer’s action was causal to the incident.
What does your work with agricultural structures involve?
The design, construction and use of agricultural structures is relatively unique compared to residential and commercial buildings. Over the years, I have come to understand the mass production market of livestock and the necessity of structures to support the complete lifecycle, from fertility to slaughter. Large silos and grain bins also play a major role in corporate farming. The design and construction of these structures poses challenges, given that the end product is a commodity and thus a financial gamble. I have worked on numerous investigations that centered on a structural failure due to marginal design, construction using unskilled labor and even inadequate design standards.
Dan on site investigating a newly constructed concrete silo that collapsed due to poor construction.
Who are your typical clients?
I have worked with property owners and managers, insurance adjusters and attorneys. In the past 10 years, I have concentrated on litigation projects. I will focus my business development efforts on the litigation support market, and will be targeting litigation attorneys that deal with commercial construction/structural failures, construction accidents and structural failures of agricultural structures.
What current opportunities and challenges do you foresee, and how do you plan to address them?
I will have the opportunity to market my skills to a large base of existing clients in an area in which the firm doesn’t have a large presence, namely construction safety and agricultural structures. Both of these market areas have a limited number of qualified experts providing forensic investigation services. There is even a fewer number of experts who can offer the investigative and analytical expertise needed to provide a comprehensive investigation. I foresee challenges in learning the skill sets of support and project-level engineers, which I will need to do to further my practice at Thornton Tomasetti. I plan to overcome this by integrating myself into the everyday activities in the Chicago office as well as in the firm overall.
How did you become involved in the AEC industry?
I became aware of forensic engineering while I was in college. There were several major aviation accidents during that time period and newspapers were reporting on the engineering firms hired to investigate the cause of the crashes. Initially, I was drawn to this area of engineering because it involved newsworthy investigations. While this is still true, I really enjoy the fact finding and the highly analytical and technical side of an investigation. I also find the debate aspect of the work very challenging because you have to defend your opinions in a legal forum.
What were some defining moments of your career so far?
Providing engineering support during the search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York City, and serving as the principal engineer for the forensic investigation of the One Energy Center/WilTel façade failure in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2004. My involvement at Ground Zero gave me perspective on what an engineer can offer to society above and beyond the design or forensic work we do daily. Upon my return, I was able to describe to the Chicago community via local TV and radio news interviews my experience assisting with the rescue and recovery efforts as an engineer. Until 2001, my practice was local to the Midwest, with little exposure to engineering firms from around the U.S. This also introduced me to a relatively large firm in New York that does forensics work, named Thornton Tomasetti. I still have the signed note from Dan Cuoco, former president and CEO, thanking me for assisting with the rescue and recovery efforts.
The WilTel project was the first time I was the lead engineer for a major emergency response effort. My team and I assessed and stabilized the partially collapsed façade and prepared the construction documents for the reconstruction. Due to the multiple construction and design defects discovered in the investigation, the re-design was a challenge from the engineering as well as the architectural side. We needed to provide in-plane lateral bracing to a tubular structure that supported the façade without changing the architectural look of the open-air atrium/solar well.
What aspects of the job do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the pressure of undertaking complex forensic projects and managing the tasks and personnel needed to accomplish the goals of the investigation. I also enjoy the domestic and international travel that comes with this type of work.
An outdoor enthusiast, Dan has been visiting Breckenridge, Colorado, with his family since 1986. “We love Breck—not for its great bowl or double diamond black slopes, but rather its numerous long blue slopes,” Dan said.
What do you do in your off hours?
I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, like boating, fishing, skiing and golf, with my wife and my adult children.
What current industry topics/trends excite or interest you?
The construction industry is getting busy again, and I find that incredibly exciting.
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