Can a City Government Prevent Crane Disasters?

Photo credit Andrew Gombert/APA

Photo credit Andrew Gombert/APA

David Wichs was a 38-year-old Harvard graduate who lived and worked in New York City. Earlier this month, while walking on Worth Street near his Manhattan home, David was killed by a falling 565-foot construction crane. He is one of 26 fatalities caused by construction accidents in NYC over the past four years.

This unfortunate accident took place on the very day we embarked upon a partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School and our client, the NYC Department of Buildings (DoB). Together, we hope to prevent fatal accidents like this one, along with the nearly 1,100 additional injuries reported this past year that were linked to NYC construction.

What Causes Construction Site Fatalities and Injuries in New York City?

Throughout this semester, our team will ask questions that that include:

  • What leads to construction fatalities and injuries in New York City?

  • Can we predict accidents associated with construction sites, which in-turn could help the DoB focus the necessary preventative actions?

  • Does the incident data gathered by the DoB reveal any clues or patterns leading up to a mishap?

  • Are there certain indicators that we can trace back to accidents, such as types of construction projects, building typology, areas of the city or certain time periods?

  • Are there signs that tell us a construction site culture is indicative of an impending incident? And if so, how could the DoB focus on those sites?

As a diverse team of five graduate students, we’ve set out to take on these issues over the next few months during our Technology & Innovation in Government course at Harvard Kennedy School. We each claim various skills in statistics, design, technology development, and project management.

Our client, the DoB, hopes that we will provide them with innovative ways of finding answers through technology and design. Ultimately, we hope to answer our most important question: can accidents like the crane disaster that killed David Wichs be prevented in the future? And if so, how?

A Client, a Team, and a Challenge

Rey Cabrera is the DoB’s Risk Management Officer and our client. With a career in criminal justice, he has successfully identified and fought gang crime in NYC using data analytics. We’re excited about the challenge ahead of us -- we’ll have to interview users, wade through incomplete and disjointed data, uncover new insights, build a minimum viable product of a tool, dashboard, or data visualization, and ultimately deliver actionable recommendations to the client.

Come the end of the semester, our recommendations could include policies, procurements, people or even public safety campaigns. In the end, our goal is for Rey and the DoB to confidently employ strategies that will help prevent future injuries and save lives in New York City.

Kirsten Rulf, Anthony Arendt, Howaida Kamel, Daniel Wagner, and Dan Bacon