The late Dan Cuoco, who died on Sept. 21 at age 68 after a battle with cancer, made it all look easy. But his projects, including investigations of building collapses and disasters, were just the opposite.
Dan was quite accomplished. He joined Lev Zetlin Associates, which morphed into Thornton Tomasetti, in February 1971. By the time he left in May 2011, he was president (since 2002) and CEO (since 2008). Between his start and stop dates, in the mid-1980s, he formed and headed up LZA Technology, the firm's forensics group. After his retirement from TT, he remained as a consultant while he took the helm as the editor of Structural Engineer magazine, which is published by ZweigWhite. Dan stepped down from that job last March.
The list of Dan's accomplishments is long but it doesn't reveal the professional. I got to know Dan as a source during some very stressful times—culminating with the World Trade Center debacle. He was always cool, calm and collected and remained that way during the 9/11 crisis. He felt it was his responsibillity to inform the construction industry—and the world—about what was going on at Ground Zero (and at most of LZA's investigative projects that involved fatalities).
I first quoted Dan in a story on the fatal high-rise hoist collapse at the Four Times Square (the Conde Nast Building) site in Manhattan. He was then president of LZA Technology, which was both investigating for the hoisting contractor—ultimately found responsible—and designing the scheme for the remaining 300 ft of the dangling structure of the once 700-ft-tall hoist.
I recall the August 1998 interview in LZA's office going way into the night--it may even have gone past midnight. "Why then and why there?" asked Dan, in the article. He provided ENR with information and hand-sketches of the emergency stabilization of the dangling scaffold-like structure. He provided photos. ENR chronicled the delicate stabilization and the even more tricky removal of the structure in the pages of the magazine—for several weeks—thanks in large part to Dan.
Dan and his team, including his close associates Manny Velivasakis and Dave Peraza, seemed always to be available to give information, insights, perspectives and more. About a year after the hoist structure collapse, LZA was probing another fatal crash—this time a crane collapse during construction of Milwaukee's Miller Park ballfield. The 567-ft-tall crane, reportedly the largest in America at that time, came down while lifting a 400-ton section of the retractable roof .
Dan was all business: "We will be looking at the wind, the positioning of the crane, the configuration of the crane components and possible materials failure in the fractured pieces," he said. "It broke in a couple of spots. We need to determine where the initiating failure was."
The next time I quoted Dan was the only time I quoted him outside of disaster reporting. It was for my "Botched Buildings" special report, in 2001. He said, in his usual matter-of-fact but no-nonsense way: "On many low-bid awards, the contractor brings a claims consultant to the job trailer on day one to try to recover the money left on the table," he said.
"As structural engineers, we've had projects where the general contractor does not even open a roll of shop drawings," he continued. "The GC gets the roll from the subs, puts a transmittal with another rubber band over it and sends it to us for review."
Several months later, about a week after the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, I interviewed Dan again. LZA-Thornton Tomasetti had been hired by New York City to lead the structural engineering disaster response team, including damage assessment surveys and more, in and around Ground Zero.
Dan's was a voice of reason and calm, in the eye of the storm. Only about 10 buildings surrounding the impact zone of the collapsed towers had structural damage, he said. "Some of that is severe, but none of the buildings damaged is currently in danger of collapse," he continued, adding that contrary to news reports, "no building outside the WTC has collapsed."
Dan and his team, including Gary Panariello, remained trusted sources throughout the clean-up.
Sixty-eight is too young to die. Dan Cuoco will be missed.