On June 23, 2012, a tragic and fatal event occurred in the small northern Ontario town of Elliot Lake. The roof of the town’s focal point, the Algo Center Mall, collapsed; resulting in $11.25 million dollars in damages, the death of two women from the area and the town was declared in a state of emergency. This collapse was devastating to the community, as the mall was the central hub of activity for the town, and provided the town with hundreds of job opportunities.
The roof collapse came as a huge surprise to the town, because only one month prior to the collapse, an engineering and structural analysis was done on the mall, which failed to turn up anything that would require immediate attention. It has been reported that the mall’s original structural engineer has lost his license and is facing fines from other jobs that he was involved in.
One of the key issues that caused the collapse was maintenance. There was a carpark on the mall’s rooftop, and many engineering reports over a decade urged remedial work to prevent water penetration and road salt corrosion. According to the lawyer representing the community groups, there is proof a membrane used to waterproof the mall that was never installed, and that this realization should have become obvious long before the collapse.
There is an ethical obligation by engineers to keep the public safety paramount and the engineers who were responsible for the inspection and maintenance of the building did not meet this obligation.
The Algo Centre Mall had a reported history of problems, many of which could be traced back to critical structure issues. When problems began to arise, such as water leaking in to stores and ruining merchandise and causing inconveniences for shoppers and employees, the owners of the mall wrote letters to the construction company stating this problem as urgent. The structure was investigated and when the problem could not be found it was discovered that the cause of the leaks was much bigger than what could be handled. It is believed the designers did not consider the traffic of heavier vehicles when designing the rooftop parking area. Once the problem was known there was no action taken in order to increase safety such as closing the garage or emergency plans if a disaster was to occur. It was also discovered that in order to reduce construction costs, over $150,000 was saved over the waterproofing of the rooftop parking.
The situation was dealt with very unethically as cost of construction became more important than the safety of the structure. As a duty to public welfare is paramount for engineers, it was clearly not followed by not addressing the structure issues properly especially after the root cause of the problem was found.