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RE: "Unqualified" Engineers and Contractors

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I TOTALLY agree with Joe McCormick's observations and recommendations. How do we implement this plan?

Bill Allen

-----Original Message-----
From:	Joe McCormick [SMTP:jmccormick(--nospam--at)]
Sent:	Thursday, October 09, 1997 10:05 PM
To:	seaoc(--nospam--at)
Subject:	"Unqualified" Engineers and Contractors

At 06:03 PM 10/9/97 -0700, Bill Allen wrote:

>A couple of _simple_ things could be done that would address 90% of my
concerns. First, there is a single sentence paragraph in the B&P >code that
allows architects to practice structural engineering. If this paragraph were
deleted, we would have come a long ways. My second >concern is with
inexperienced civil engineers being able to stamp and sign drawings. 

I think both of Bill's above concerns are VERY valid.  Generally speaking,
architects shouldn't be doing structural engineering because they are not
trained to do so. "Inexperienced" civil engineers is a pretty relative term
subject to a lot of various interpretations and opinions.  In some ways,
many younger CEs might be more qualified than some of the older CEs to
design in higher risk seismic zones.  What they lack in experience just may
be offset by their relatively recent education in current seismic design
principles and code (a very tough thing for older "know-it-all-seen-it-all"
engineers to admit!!)

An issue that I believe has MORE impact on life-safety has to do with
CONSTRUCTION and PLAN CHECK.  I often feel that our debates about qualified
design professionals is often nothing more than academic after making a few
site visits.  Let's admit it, lot's of the damage incurred by structures
after a good shaking have more to do with poor construction and unclear
blueprints than poor analytical ability!  If we're really interested in
improving the safety of our built environment, we need to GET OUT OF THE
PROCESS!  Contractors should have to meet more stringent qualifications to
build in Zone 3 and 4.
  Engineers should be required to do more construction
observation and be suject to peer-review.  I offer the following suggestions:

1)  California shouldn't let EITs take the PE until they have FOUR years of
experience and a degree from an ABET accredited university like the rest of
the U.S.
2)  General contractors should be liscened by an exam that addresses
seismic-resistant construction practices and load path principles in zones 3
and 4.  If they don't have a clue what things are for, chances are good that
they won't get built right!
3)  Engineers should be required to make site visits and submit observation
reports for ALL structures.
4)  Continuing education requirements need to be part of an engineer's
re-registration requirements every 4 years.  Nobody is so good that they can
afford to stop learning and staying current once they get their PE or SE.
5)  Last but not least municipalities should require peer review of
structural designs by engineers they deem qualified to do so who have
DEMONSTRATED their expertise in structural engineering prior to issuing
building permits.  "Qualified" peer-reviewers could be certified by testing,
SEA's or other methods that demostrate their expertise in structural
engineering beyond that required to pass the CE PE exam and the SE exam
could be a defacto qualification (if not THE defacto qualification) to be a
peer-reviewer.  City's could easily keep a list of qualified
"engineer-peer-reviewers" just like they do for contractors qualified to
intall, say, septic systems.

We will never create a method that insures an individual engineer is
completely "qualified" to do everything under the sun in structural
engineering.  The issues are WAY TO BROAD and project specific!  Focusing on
creating better checks and balances in the review process would be much more
successful.  There are precidents for this type of thing.  Doctors in
hospitals undergo the scrutiny of their peers on a YEARLY basis, engineers
should learn something from these professionals.  In my area, a nearby city
made it a requirement to have a civil engineer observe site-work
construction on ALL projects and it has vastly improved the quality of work
done there.  Currently, structural engineering is often done in a vaccuum by
one set of eyes in an office and many times is never followed up upon in the

As a bonus, truly qualified CE's and SE's would see more work and would get
a chance to do some self-policing of their peers that they currently cannot
do very easily.  Qualified CE's wouldn't be hamstrung by this at all, but
you can bet that "civil-civils" and unlicensed designers and architects
would get hammered if they started practicing outside their area of
expertise in structural!

Joe McCormick