About Patrick Coulombel
Patrick Coulombel is an architect and construction expert. He officiates for various French courts, about 30 expertise a year.
He is also The Executive Director of a Foundation for Post-Disaster Reconstruction, active in Haiti, Nepal, the Philippines, Saint Martin…
He worked, for example, as an Expert for a large international group (VINCI) on the construction of the Condorcet Campus in Paris.
Which of your expertise has made the most impression on you and why?
The most striking expertise in my journey is the safety of public buildings in the city of Banda Aceh in January 2005, following the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004. We had to carry out our mission while victims were still buried in some buildings! Despite this, the state had to organize relief and aid to the people; so it was necessary for the various organizations to be able to work. It is therefore with the help of some forty local engineers and architects, and at the request of the responsible authorities, that we have patrolled the city to assess all the buildings still standing, installing security perimeters when necessary.
From your long experience, what advice would you give to people who want to become Experts?
One is not born An Expert, one becomes one by the fruit of experience, by observing, listening, questioning and training. We learn every day, but our work is also common sense: to have a good capacity for analysis, hindsight and synthesis. That is why, for the whole judicial part of this work, training in law seems to me to be necessary, in order to be more efficient and able to place itself in respect of procedures and contradiction.
Can you please share an example of successful collaboration between experts and decision makers?
In 2005, after an earthquake in Pakistan, I was asked by a United Nations agency, UN HABITAT, to provide reconstruction guidelines and train local military personnel in reconstruction in inaccessible mountainous areas. The operation, although delicate, was a success, not least because the reconstructions were carried out taking into account the seismic requirements that we had submitted on the basis of new constructive principles.
What do you need to help experts and facilitate the work of decision-makers?
An Expert must produce clear and understandable reports by everyone. It must be based on facts, technical regulations and take into account the environment of expertise. In the event of a difficulty, an Expert must know how to surround himself with specific skills in order to produce a report that is as little as possible subject to discussion. This sometimes requires means, which means measuring the costs of expertise against the issues. It is the Expert’s responsibility to inform the parties on this point and not to get carried away. The Tribunal that will have to judge the case will decide all the better as the report is clear and all the points of contention well debated.
What is the difference that makes you an Expert and not just a specialist or consultant?
An Expert does not take sides; it must issue a structured and objective technical opinion, it must be impartial. A consultant works for a client and therefore defends his interests.
What is the most common problem you face?
In judicial expertise, the courts’ delays are a real problem. The slow pace of justice is a considerable obstacle to the conduct of the examinations, which has its share of important material and human consequences. Some victims feel let down by the system. They are sometimes asked to advance large sums of money, which can lead to them having to abandon a procedure that they are unable to bear the costs of.
So far, how did you find your customers?
I mainly practice for the Courts of Civil and Administrative Courts which appoint me.
I also work as a technical counselor for parties. Generally, these are people who have spotted me in the lists of Justice Experts or, occasionally, seen in the media.
In emergencies, I sometimes intervene to secure buildings at the request of local authorities, governments or embassies. In Haiti, Indonesia, Nepal, Algeria and elsewhere, I took part in securing sites after earthquakes. In France, I was asked several times after major floods in the Gard, the Somme, and Nîmes, as well as following the explosion of the AZF plant in Toulouse.
What has been your most effective advertising medium to date?
Being present in the media allows for a certain notoriety, because they are communication vectors that reach a very wide audience. However, the professionalism and quality of the work done remain unquestionably the only values safe to build an effective and sustainable reputation.
What is the profile of your typical customer?
The client we are looking for is the one who has (or gives himself) the means to investigate and who trusts the Expert. To carry out an expertise is to take responsibility: to find causes, but sometimes also to know how to admit that one does not know, that the cause is foreign or unknown.
The ideal client is able to hear this, especially if the scientific and technical argument provided is extensive, consistent and pragmatic. Fortunately, it is rare not to have an answer to give to his client!
Experts Without Borders, World Federation of Experts, aims to elevate the status and recognition of Experts at the international level.
Experts Sans Frontières highlights the words of the Experts. We have thus carried out a series of interviews, portraits of Experts, allowing everyone to present the importance of their work in many areas that affect us all.