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(CDR-1212) Forensic Analysis of Superstorm Sandy Damage

Primary Author: Mr William M Hart PE CFCC PSP

Audience Focus: Advanced
Application Type: Application
Venue: 2013 AACE International Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, USA

Abstract: When Superstorm Sandy approached the New Jersey Shore in late October 2012, there was an expectation by weather professionals and government agencies of a storm of historic proportions. However, all the warnings in the world could not have prepared New Jersey, New York, and other areas impacted by the storm for the devastation and tragedy that Sandy brought. Extensive news coverage of Sandy has described the devastation in detail: more than 650,000 housing units damaged or destroyed, primarily as a result of the storm surge, along with numerous business locations, many of which will never recover. With Sandy striking as “just” a superstorm and not a hurricane, determining the damage mechanism, particularly wind versus storm surge, is a critical issue in the insurance claims process for all property owners. Many policies cover damage caused by wind but not damage caused by storm surge, which is often considered flood, and therefore excluded or subject to extremely high deductibles and aggregated sublimits. Therefore, there has been considerable conflict between property owners and insurers as to the determination of the specific cause of Superstorm Sandy damage. Typically, when this conflict arises, a forensic construction expert or investigator is brought in to help resolve the issue. However, beyond the analyses of all the available data, there are many other challenges facing the forensic construction expert or investigator. In this case, such challenges include seeing “beyond the headlines” of Superstorm Sandy, while gathering all available information to formulate substantiated conclusions regarding the cause and origin of property damage.