Notes from the Field: The Sometimes Strange World of Structural Assessment

EBA Engineering’s structural engineering department members often find themselves in strange places. Although not many are stranger than on (unsurprisingly) a Friday the 13th in May when this routine structural assessment for fire damage was interrupted by an entirely unrelated fire next door.

Our structural assessment team ventures out every day to various corners of Maryland, DC, and Virginia to assess all types of structural damage and generate plans for repair. After assessing the parts of buildings that are structurally comprised by fires, vehicles, flooding, and more, our team works to identify the issues that are unique to each project. This may include structural defects, material deterioration, or structural distress.

EBA’s structural engineering department has a growing reputation among regional restoration companies for having some of the most knowledgeable and efficient structural engineers around. Our engineers’ specialized experience allows them to anticipate repair issues, sometimes even before arriving on site.

“You never know what you’re going to encounter on these types of projects, but the more assessments you do, the better you can predict what the client is facing,” says department manager Mike Dominelli. “But sometimes, the strange world of structural assessment can still be full of surprises.”

On a particularly strange day, we might face something like a Jeep that ran straight through an 18-inch masonry pier and into an apartment house. Amazingly, the three-story building did not collapse. We designed temporary shoring jacks to hold up the structure, as well as the permanent repair.

Even a lightning-shattered, one-ton cross atop a sixth-story steeple is not too much for EBA’s structural engineering department to handle.

When lightning struck the steeple of Saint Ann’s Catholic Church in Northwest DC, the cross exploded into pieces all over the roof, crashed to the ground, and made craters in the concrete sidewalk below. The repair team needed a cherry picker to get 150-pound pieces of concrete off the roof to prevent them from rolling off and causing additional damage.

Our team helped develop repair plans and specifications to construct a new cross for the nearly 70-year-old church. In particular, we concentrated on properly reinforcing the new structure to make it sturdier than ever. And on a side note, it was really exciting to work on an extremely high roof!

Our other daily challenges include assessing apartment fires (pretty much every week). Clients also need structural assessments when preparing to renovate older structures. We are helping to turn a historic church into an apartment building and helping Towson University renovate its stadium press box.

Although the law does not require periodic structural engineering assessments of existing buildings, the benefit of being prepared goes without saying. One of our ongoing assessment projects includes supporting concrete and reinforced steel replacements for Baltimore City firehouses.

Whether it’s a fire-damaged apartment building, a home damaged by a fallen tree, or a storm-damaged business, our engineers are happy to lend their expertise and help our clients get their lives/homes/businesses back to normal. We work hard to get the report and repair plans in our clients’ hands as fast as possible to make sure they can get their structures repaired quickly.

Fortunately, nobody was injured in any of the incidences depicted in the photographs above. But they are a good reminder that you really never know what challenges life will bring! We hope everyone will stay safe. And if damage impacts your home or business, feel free to give our team a call.

Frank Taverna is a structural engineer at EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 240.547.1145 or


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Frank Taverna