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FIU experts available to discuss Surfside building collapse

FIU experts available to discuss Surfside building collapse

June 24, 2021 at 7:00am

As the story continues to develop around the Surfside building collapse, FIU experts are available to discuss building design and structure, subsidence in the area, mental health after a disaster and related issues.

Structural Engineering 

Atorod Azizinamini
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Azizinamini can discuss the factors investigators will be assessing to determine the cause of the collapse of a building in Surfside, Florida. Azizinamini is the author of many books and papers on structural engineering. In 1995, he was selected to be a member of a U.S. delegation to work with Japanese researchers to develop technologies for the next generation of high-rise buildings in seismic regions. He has done research and developed a method to detect corrosion in steel embedded in concrete and can discuss the many factors that could have led to this failure, including construction method, foundation settlement and others.
Click here for a video of Azizinamini discussing the collapse.
Please contact Elizabeth Calzadilla at or via phone, 786-338-3346 to arrange an interview with Azizinamini.

Joseph Philip Colaco
Professor of practice
Moss School of Construction Infrastructure and Sustainability
Colaco is available to discuss the possible cause of the collapse of a building in Surfside, Florida as well as building design and structure. Colaco’s design innovations improved the construction of high-rise buildings, enabling them to withstand enormous forces generated on these super structures. He is noted for his contributions to the designs for some of the multi-billion dollar projects in the United States, Middle East and India including Chicago's 100-story John Hancock Center, 75-story JPMorgan Chase Tower in Houston, 160-story Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai (present tallest tower in the world) and The Imperial Twin Towers, TardeoMumbai, India. He has also been consulted on the design of a bonfire at Texas A & M University.
Colaco is available for interviews in Spanish. 
Please contact Gaby Aguirrechu at or via phone, 305-348-2232 to arrange an interview with Colaco.


Shimon Wdowinski
Department of Earth and Environment 

Shimon Wdowinski is an expert in space geodesy, natural hazards and sea level rise. His research has focused on the development and usage of space geodetic techniques that can detect very precisely small movements of the Earth's surface. Wdowinski recently published a paper analyzing land subsidence in Miami Beach using space-borne radar data acquired between 1993-1999 identifying land subsidence in the area of the catastrophic collapse at Surfside. Wdowinski has successfully applied these techniques to study tectonic plate motion, earthquakes, land subsidence, sinkhole activities, wetland hydrology, climate change, and sea level rise. He believes this space-based technology could now be used to detect vulnerable buildings. He is currently spearheading research supported by NASA examining whether powerful hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones can trigger earthquakes.  
Click here for a video interview of Wdowinski discussing the collapse, subsidence and his recent study.
Please contact Ayleen Barbel Fattal at or via phone, 305-790-0387;
or JoAnn Adkins at or via phone, 305-348-0398 to arrange an interview with Wdowinski.


Shahin Vassigh
Professor and director of Technology Research Development
Department of Architecture
Vassigh is available to discuss building design and structure. She has considerable professional experience through her work at various consulting engineering firms ranging from bridge design/analysis to large-scale building construction and design. She teaches structures and building technology courses in the architecture curriculum. She has built a nationally recognized body of research work focused on improving structures and technology education by developing alternative teaching pedagogies that utilizes digital media. Her work has been characterized as setting new standards for new media educational materials and is published and distributed internationally. Vassigh is a recipient of two major federal grants to develop Interactive learning environments using state of the art computing technology.

Please contact Sarah Hernandez at phone, 305-348-5395 or Andrea Perez at phone, 305-348-5375 to arrange an interview with Vassigh.

Mental Health 

Mark J. Macgowan
Associate dean
Academic Affairs and Professor of Social Work

Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work
Macgowan’s teaching, research, and clinical experience are in disaster mental health. He is a licensed psychotherapist and an EMDR therapist, an efficacious trauma-based therapy. He has served as a Disaster Mental Health Worker with the American Red Cross and currently serves as an intermittent behavioral health specialist on a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). Macgowan teaches FIU’s only graduate course dedicated to disaster behavioral health. In addition, he teaches live and remote-delivered workshops on Psychosocial First Aid. Macgowan can discuss mental health-related to mass casualty events, whether it is disaster responders or survivors (adults). He can also share tips for preparing for and dealing with the psychosocial aftermath of a mass casualty event.
Please contact Stephanie Rendon at or via phone, 305-348-4670 to arrange an interview with Macgowan.


Kevin Lothridge
Executive director
Global Forensic and Justice Center
Kevin Lothridge is a well-respected forensic scientist and business leader with more than with 28 years of experience in the international forensic community. His science and technical background, coupled with his business acumen and natural leadership abilities has enabled his rise from drug chemist to laboratory director to executive roles in both the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC@FIU) and Florida International University’s preeminent Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC). His expertise covers multiple areas of forensic science, including drug and explosive chemistry, fire debris analysis, forensic intelligence and emerging forensic technologies. He can speak to disaster victim identification (DVI) using fingerprints, forensic odontology, and DNA. 
Please contact Michelle Chernicoff at or (980) 621-4211 to arrange an interview with Lothridge. 

Robert O’Brien
Forensic biology lead
National Forensic Science Technology Center
O’Brien manages the Forensic Biology Department at NFSTC@FIU. He serves as Subject Matter Expert and instructor for DNA and forensic biology training programs in both the United States and Internationally with 17 years’ experience. He is also responsible for training military personnel on rapid DNA analysis systems and training military forces on biological collection and screening. O’Brien holds a Professional Science Master’s in Forensic Science from Florida International University and earned his Bachelor of Sciences in Biology from Florida Atlantic University. O’Brien further holds a Certificate in Biotechnology from Florida Atlantic University. He can discuss how DNA is used for identification of the victims and reunification. 
Please contact Michelle Chernicoff at or (980) 621-4211 to arrange an interview with O’Brien. 

Max Houck
Forensic portfolio innovator
Global Forensic and Justice Center
An international expert in the forensic sciences, Houck has nearly 30 years of expertise in casework, research, management and writing. His casework includes the Branch Davidian Investigation, the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon, the D.B. Cooper case, and the West Memphis Three, among hundreds of others including his casework at the FBI Laboratory. He has managed tens of millions of dollars in grants and his committee work includes the White House, the National Academies of Science, the Royal Society, and Interpol. Houck is one of the most published professionals in his field. He is Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Science International: Synergy, the first Gold Open Access journal in the discipline. Houck is also Editor-in-Chief of the third edition of The Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. Houck is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a full member of Sigma Xi, and a retired member of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. He is currently the Forensic Portfolio Innovator at the Global Forensic and Justice Center at Florida International University. Houck can discuss disaster victim identification.
Please contact Michelle Chernicoff at or (980) 621-4211 to arrange an interview with Houck.

Emergency Management

Pete Gomez
Senior Director
Division of Operations and Safety
Academy for International Disaster Preparedness
A highly motivated and enthusiastic Fire Service professional with a specialty in Emergency Management, Gomez was a member of the executive board for the State of Florida’s Domestic Oversight Council, co-chaired of the Special Response Teams Coordinating Group, and belongs to the Regional Domestic Security Task Force. With over 35 years of experience in just about every aspect of the Fire Service, Gomez brings a well-rounded perspective and wealth of experience to emergency management. Gomez is working closely with students of FIU’s Academy for International Disaster Preparedness, who are assisting with search and rescue, administering medical care, and managing logistics at the Surfside building collapse. He was once in charge of Florida Task Force 2, one of the 28 National Urban Search and Rescue Teams, that is currently working on the rubble pile.

Please contact Stephanie Rendon at or via phone, 305-348-4670 to arrange an interview with Gomez.