On September 4, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Christchurch, New Zealand. Though the earthquake caused significant damage to buildings and other infrastructure, no direct fatalities resulted from the quake–due largely to the epicenter’s distance from the city and its occurrence in the early-morning hours, when few people were away from their homes.

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Tragically, some five months later, on February 22, 2011, Christchurch was hit by a strong aftershock, this time registering 6.3 in magnitude. Located significantly closer to the center of the city and hitting buildings that had already been weakened by the earlier quake, the aftershock exacted a more significant toll in terms of damage and lives lost.

Of the 185 individuals killed in the 2011 aftershock, more than 60 percent (115) were killed in the collapse of a single building–the CTV building, a six-story structure that held the offices of the Canterbury Television station as well as a language school and other commercial tenants. Witnesses and survivors described the building’s collapse as sudden and quick, beginning with an initial twisting as the building shook, before concrete columns on the fifth floor exploded outward all at once. The fifth floor’s disintegration triggered the lower floors to pancake one by one, while the sixth floor sank almost intact to the ground; the entire collapse is believed to have occurred within 20 seconds of the start of the quake.

The commission tasked with investigating the collapse focused much of its attention on two engineers involved in the project–the building’s design engineer and the principal of the firm that employed him. The committee learned that before his work on the CTV building in 1986, the design engineer had never designed a structure of more than two stories. In addition, the client had requested an asymmetrical design for his structure, with an elevator shaft in an offset core on the north wall of the building; this, too, was a type of design with which the engineer had no previous experience.

Under the New Zealand building code, engineers designing multistory structures were required to use computer analysis to measure earthquake loading on the structure. While the CTV building’s design engineer was unfamiliar with the software used for such tests, he nevertheless ran an analysis of his design and made several modifications to his plans before reaching a result that appeared to show deflections within allowable limits. Unfortunately, the design engineer was unaware of an important limitation in the software’s analysis. The program produced deflection data for a single point at the center of mass for each floor. But because of the CTV building’s eccentric design, a proper analysis required the structural engineer to determine the building’s center of rotation–somewhere other than the center of mass–and use that location to calculate deflections at the corners. Because of his failure to account for the structure’s shape, the engineer’s analysis projected that the design would produce far less floor movement during an earthquake than in fact was the case.

The result, as noted by the investigating commission, was a structure that was “under-engineered in a number of important respects.” Critical design flaws included inadequate shear reinforcement and concrete cover on the structural columns, inadequate design of the beam-to-column joints, and inadequate connections between the floor slab diaphragms and the building’s north wall complex. These flaws meant that the two elements designed to protect the building from seismic forces–the north wall complex and the coupled shear wall on the south–were unable to perform their intended function. In response to the commission’s inquiry, both the engineer and his principal tried to shift some degree of blame for the failure to the other. The design engineer said that the principal’s frequent questions and other conduct had led him to believe the principal was reviewing his work. He stated, “If I had thought I was doing it myself, I would have bailed right then.” The principal argued that the engineer had more than 10 years’ experience at the time of the assignment and occupied a senior position in the firm. He said the engineer had never raised any concerns about his competence, and he believed it was the engineer’s responsibility to seek assistance if he was having trouble with the design.

Ultimately, the commission ruled that the design engineer had been working “well beyond” his level of experience in designing the CTV building and that he should not have undertaken to design the structure without review by a more qualified professional. Likewise, it found the firm’s principal was aware of the design engineer’s lack of relevant experience and that he should not have permitted the engineer to perform the work without supervision or review.


If the two engineers had been members of ASCE, would their conduct have violated the ASCE Code of Ethics? If the answer is yes, be sure to list the exact part(s) of the code that were violated. If the answer is no, be sure to explain why.





a.    first and foremost, protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public;

b.    enhance the quality of life for humanity;

c.    express professional opinions truthfully and only when founded on adequate knowledge and honest conviction;

d.    have zero tolerance for bribery, fraud, and corruption in all forms, and report violations to the proper authorities;

e.    endeavor to be of service in civic affairs;

f.     treat all persons with respect, dignity, and fairness, and reject all forms of discrimination and harassment;

g.    acknowledge the diverse historical, social, and cultural needs of the community, and incorporate these considerations in their work;

h.    consider the capabilities, limitations, and implications of current and emerging technologies when part of their work; and

i.     report misconduct to the appropriate authorities where necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.




a.    adhere to the principles of sustainable development;

b.    consider and balance societal, environmental, and economic impacts, along with opportunities for improvement, in their work;

c.    mitigate adverse societal, environmental, and economic effects; and

d.    use resources wisely while minimizing resource depletion.




a.    uphold the honor, integrity, and dignity of the profession;

b.    practice engineering in compliance with all legal requirements in the jurisdiction of practice;

c.    represent their professional qualifications and experience truthfully;

d.    reject practices of unfair competition;

e.    promote mentorship and knowledge-sharing equitably with current and future engineers;

f.     educate the public on the role of civil engineering in society; and

g.    continue professional development to enhance their technical and non-technical competencies.




a.    act as faithful agents of their clients and employers with integrity and professionalism;

b.    make clear to clients and employers any real, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest;

c.    communicate in a timely manner to clients and employers any risks and limitations related to their work;

d.    present clearly and promptly the consequences to clients and employers if their engineering judgment is overruled where health, safety, and welfare of the public may be endangered;

e.    keep clients’ and employers’ identified proprietary information confidential;

f.     perform services only in areas of their competence; and

g.    approve, sign, or seal only work products that have been prepared or reviewed by them or under their responsible charge.


5.    PEERS


a.    only take credit for professional work they have personally completed;

b.    provide attribution for the work of others;

c.    foster health and safety in the workplace;

d.    promote and exhibit inclusive, equitable, and ethical behavior in all engagements with colleagues;

e.    act with honesty and fairness on collaborative work efforts;

f.     encourage and enable the education and development of other engineers and prospective members of the profession;

g.    supervise equitably and respectfully;

h.    comment only in a professional manner on the work, professional reputation, and personal character of other engineers; and

i.     report violations of the Code of Ethics to the American Society of Civil Engineers.