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Forensic engineers solve the mysteries of sick, damaged structures

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Gregg Bogia and his team of forensic engineers are much like crime scene investigators many of us watch on prime-time television.
The only difference is they're not dealing with murderous criminals; their prey is often icky things like termites or mold.

Bogia heads up Wyomissing-based Bogia Engineering. Their forte is offering forensic engineering services that can unravel a structural mystery. Facing an uncertain future in these tough economic times, Bogia knew offering a variety of services – especially something not-so-common such as forensic engineering – would help his engineering business stay afloat.

“A lot of businesses in the industry (aren't) doing so well, so I had to figure out ways to grow the business and that meant offering more services,” Bogia explained.

Like special investigators examining a crime, Bogia and his engineers are contracted when a disaster such as a collapse or fire strike. Their mission: to find the responsible villain. These “bad guys” can be mold, termites, or any number of engineering mistakes, Bogia said.

This year, Bogia's scientific sleuthing work will amount to about 10 percent of his firm's total business. During the six years the firm has handled forensic engineering, staff members have worked on hospitals, age-restricted housing projects, and shopping centers. The recession has led to a slowdown in other areas.

“There's not a real residential market going on at this time,” Bogia said.

Bogia and his team work hand-and-hand with the Investigative Engineers Association (I-ENG-A), a group that helps insurance companies verify the accuracy of a customer's claim. Being able to work in such a fine-tuned field requires plenty of certification.

To gain certification through I-ENG-A, which is a nationwide network of independent forensic engineering firms that provide services to investigate, document, test and secure property and evidence, Bogia took classes and eventually a certification test.

The transition was a smooth one, Bogia said.

“We just applied the other skills that we had into forensic-type engineering,” he said.

At the beginning of each investigation, the engineer takes photos of the building's exterior to get a preliminary understanding what has happened even before entering the structure. From there, he moves on to the scene of the crime – the spot where the damage occurred.

Bogia said the most common things he and fellow investigators find responsible for damaged homes are termites and water.

Most of the damage happens behind-the-scenes and only appears after a lot of damage has taken place.

“The homeowner (often times) didn't realize they had termite damage and didn't realize they had an issue but the bugs or water have been working at it for 20 or 30 years,” Bogia said.

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