Structural engineer says no cause for Houston high-rise dwellers to panic following Florida building collapse

KPRC 2's Taisha walker reports on the inspection process of Houston high-rises in the wake of the Florida building collapse.
KPRC 2's Taisha walker reports on the inspection process of Houston high-rises in the wake of the Florida building collapse.

HOUSTON – Search crews, including a specially trained dog, are looking for any signs of life among the rubble in surfside, Florida.

At least 11 people are confirmed dead and 151 people are unaccounted for after the Champlain Towers South collapsed last Thursday. The building had significant cracks and breaks in the concrete that needed extensive repairs, according to a structural engineering firm’s 2018 report.

The deadly building accident has some in the Houston area wondering about the safety of Houston’s residential high-rise buildings.

“Generally, buildings don’t collapse all of a sudden,” said Prof. Joseph Colaco with the college of architecture at the University of Houston. “There are warning signs. There will be cracks in the floors, cracks in the columns, there will be spalling of the concrete.”

Professor Colaco is also a structural engineer, who helped design buildings across Houston and the country. He said from his experience, an investigation of this magnitude could take months.

“It’s going to take a while. Maybe at least six months for an investigation, testing of materials, running calculations and so on,” Colaco said. “About 15 years ago I was involved with the forensic engineer on the collapse of the World Trade Center and that investigation and report took almost one year to do.

Houston historian, Mister McKinney of Mister McKinney’s Historic Houston said, the city of Houston has a number of residential high-rises built during the same time period as the one in Surfside, such as The Parklane in the Museum District and The Conquistador in Sharpstown. He said some even used similar concrete and materials.

“All these buildings in the Galleria, west side of Houston, Greenway plaza included, are still around,” McKinney said. “Even in the Museum District area built in the early 80′s too.”

Colaco said in Florida, residential high-rises are inspected when they turn 40 and then every 10 years. He said structural inspections are done differently in Houston.

“There’s really no reason to inspect a building after it’s been complete, unless there are some, again, tell-tale signs,” he said.

A city of Houston spokesperson told KPRC 2 that the Houston Public Works Habitability team inspects multi-family buildings, such as apartments, every four years per city code. The spokesperson also said high-rises are typically inspected by fire marshals.

Colaco said the official cause of the Surfside collapse is revealed, Houstonians should not panic.

“There are thousands and thousands of buildings all over the united states and they stood up very well,” he said.