- It could take a year to fully understand how the Miami condo collapsed, an expert told Insider.
- Disaster management expert Robert A. Jensen walked Insider through the priorities of the aftermath.
- Communicating well with those left behind is key, as well as recovering human remains.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Knowing exactly what caused the catastrophic collapse of a condo not far from Miami, Florida, could take more than a year, a disaster management expert said.
His company Kenyon International – which is not working on the Miami disaster – provides crisis communications and disaster recovery after plane crashes, terror attacks, and major building collapses.
“It’s hard for people to get their heads around, just how big and catastrophic this is,” he told Insider of the Miami collapse.
“And this is likely going to be – and I hope not – the largest loss of life for a non-intentional structure collapse in the United States.”
The largest event of that kind so far was in 1981, when the walkway of a Hyatt hotel collapsed, killing 114 people. As of Thursday, 147 people were missing and 18 are confirmed dead in the Miami collapse.
Three days after the collapse – when Insider spoke to Jensen – the situation was “getting to that period where it will probably go from a rescue to recovery,” he said.
He noted that people can survive inside air pockets in building collapses such as this. But even then, chances of people surviving drop sharply after three days, as Insider’s Sarah Al-Arshani reported.
Insider spoke to Jensen about what comes next.
‘You can’t make it better. You just don’t want to make it worse.’
It could be more than a year before everything is known about the collapse, Jensen told Insider.
Hurricane season, which will reach its height in August, could disrupt the operation, he said in a paper on the Miami collapse seen by Insider.
Rainfall has already slowed the efforts of rescuers, as The New York Times reported. Bad weather also poses a risk of destabilizing the rest of the building, he said – a concern when some are refusing to leave in the belief it is safe.
Engineers wanting to know the cause of the collapse will want to recover sections and pieces of the building for analysis, Jensen said. Later, simulations may be produced to determine precisely what happened.
The human work is also crucial, he said. Authorities need to communicate well to ensure the situation is no more painful than it already is.
“First of all, the best you can do is zero,” he said. “You can’t make it better. You just don’t want to make it worse.”
The process of identifying remains and their belongings is a slow and arduous one, Jensen said. “The dead have a right to a name. They have a right to dignity,” he said. “So, [they need] to be recovered and identified.”
Finding and identifying human remains often provides some sort of comfort, and is also the simplest route to getting a death certificate.
“The bodies are hugely important because without a body, you don’t typically get death certificates,” he said. Without remains there can be a five- to seven-year wait, all of which can affect things like life insurance claims.
For those who survived or lost a loved one, there are also practical obstacles – from finding somewhere new to live, to canceling bills that automatically renew. In all of that, the ideal is a central point of communication to which all people involved can turn.
Surfside will also have to look after the community, he said – from first responders to those involved in the recovery process. “No one on site will return home the same way they deployed,” he wrote.