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Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates

Forensic engineering firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. (WJE) reconstructs and assesses damaged aircraft, office buildings, stadiums, bridges -- you name it. Once it even moved a lighthouse a mile inland to discover what went wrong with the structure before it collapsed.

WJE sent a team of volunteers from its Northbrook, Ill., headquarters to New York after September 11 to help evaluate the stability of the buildings surrounding the World Trade Center site. It was also involved in reconfiguring the Boeing 747 TWA aircraft that crashed in July 1996 and is regularly first on the scene collecting seismic data after an earthquake. In addition, WJE carries out faade inspections on many churches, historic monuments, and government buildings around the country in order to help preserve them.

"It's a highly data-intensive operation," says Ray Jaskot, WJE's IT director. He and a team of six administrators are responsible for the data storage and telecommunications needs of WJE's 18 offices nationwide.

Recently the company began to run out of disk space and was forced to rethink its storage operation to avoid a capacity crunch. "Our larger offices were at 90 percent capacity and reaching a critical point," says Jaskot. WJE manages about 6.5 terabytes today, but its capacity needs are doubling every year.

A number of factors are driving this growth. The company's engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) applications to create seismic models of earthquake damage -- these can be up to 60 Gbytes per file -- while façade inspectors rappelling off buildings use digital photography to document the damage to buildings. "A lot of these structures are difficult to access after a disaster, so it's easier to show the client pictures of what has happened rather than make them hang off the building," says Jaskot. WJE must also carefully reference everything it does for legal purposes, and digital photography provides a useful record of its progress.

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