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SEAOC - Plan Review Comments - Outrage!!!

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I received my copies of the March 1998 Plan Review. First off I'd like to
congratulate SEAOC on producing a very good looking and informative
newsletter. I do have strong opinions on two of the articles and warn the
reader that this post is long.


I support an exam that more rigidly addresses the provisions of Chapter 16
of the UBC and comparable national codes. I don't feel that an engineer
practicing in Missouri, for example, needs to have any less knowledge of
lateral force distribution than an  engineer in California. I believe that
no area of this country is free from the effects of seismic or wind.
Therefore, it is important, in the very least, to have an understanding of
the forces which govern.

A national exam will allow an engineer reciprocity in other states as well
as unify compliance for those who wish to move where the work is. I believe
that BORPELS and NCEES need to combine efforts, utilizing the strengths of
each, to unify the exam process.

It's no surprise to most that I am an advocate for two-tiered structural
engineering licensing. In this respect, I am seriously concerned about the
tone of the last paragraph of this article. It states:

"As SEAOC continues to look at the registration/licensing of structural
engineers in California and the nation (in cooperation with the National
Council of Structural Engineers Associations), the findings of this
Subcommittee may help point us in a direction which we may wish to consider.
The report points out that most states are now using the NCEES Structural II
Examination as the first licensing examination an applicant takes. The
BORPELS Subcommittee found this examination is not specifically developed
for use as a "mastery examination." A 'masters' level would be for licensed
engineers wishing to pursue registration or title authority to distinguish a
level of competency substantially above entry level licensing. The report
further points out that in fact, "The California Structural examination is
defined by its use as a "mastery examination" for purposes of the structural
engineering title." Viewing the practice of structural engineering in terms
of two levels of competency may provide us with fertile ground for further
discussions on the licensing/registration for structural engineers."

I object to the term "Entry level" exam. An exam should NOT be given that
would allow the use of any title nor grant any authority to any person who
has not proven an acceptable level of competency in the field of practice.
Entry level implies room for error and the need to be supervised, novice and
beginner - certainly not the picture of an engineer competent to practice
under sole proprietorship. With respect to those titled SE, the only
difference in testing should be in the additional special knowledge (code
compliance) required of the practice on essential facilities and structures
above 160 feet (or heights as designated by governing codes).

The implications in this article originate from the assumption that the
existing CE exam is adequate for engineers who have not specified a field of
expertise. The purpose of a two-tiered system is not simply to leave the
public in jeopardy of the bottom-feeders who decide to cross lines of
competency in order to profit from natural disaster. Nor should it simply
elevate the mastery and clarity of the SE title to set it farther apart from
those equally qualified to practice "structural engineering". The real
purpose of a two-tiered title should be to limit the applicant who wishes to
practice structural engineering and test those skills necessary to prove
competency in this field. Let the Civils who wish to devote their practice
to land have full use of the CE title, if only for the sake and clarity
needed for the general public to understand the difference in titles. This
fosters protection and eliminates confusion by non-professionals.

Before we solve the problem of what title to designate on a two-tiered
system, those decision and policy makers must understand that the change in
examination procedure must start at the very basic level for the simple, but
most important reason - the protection of the public.

Therefore, I would request that the members of the Professional Activities
Committee re-define their goals to our membership in clearer and more
definitive rhetoric. I also suggest that the membership not allow a position
to be taken by SEAOC without debate as to what the members actual expect of
the agreement between BORPELS and NCEES.


The following article was released to the public during Engineer's Week,
February 22-28, 1998. It was published in "SEAOC Plan Review" for March 1998
(which I received today). Included below the date of the article (February
18, 1998) were the lines "For further information, contact Allen Goldstein,
SEAOC Executive Director" and his phone number. I have taken the liberty to
scan and reproduce the article here so that those outside California and
those not a member can follow my comments.

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake in California took the lives
of 57 people, left nearly 9,000 people injured and caused over $20 billion
in damage. One year later, in Kobe, Japan, the great Hanshin earthquake
struck. The devastation that followed amounted to over 5,000 dead and over
$200 billion in damage. Recent earthquakes, including these two devastating
ones, have demonstrated that structural engineering solutions can mitigate
and prevent damage and destruction. According to Allen Goldstein, Executive
Director of the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC),
"Structures, including bridges and buildings, that had been originally
designed or retrofitted by structural engineers to better respond to seismic
forces, in fact, performed better than those that had not."

Mr. Goldstein points out, "Structural engineers subscribe to the principal
that though earthquakes are inevitable natural hazards, they need not be
inevitable natural disasters." Ken Luttrell, SEAOC's President explains,
'performance-based engineering describes a system of engineering
alternatives directly aimed at improving the seismic performance of
buildings, mitigating the disastrous effects of earthquakes. Quite simply,
performance-based engineering describes engineering procedures to obtain
buildings of predictable and defined performance in response to a given
magnitude of earthquake hazard."

The SEAOC idea is to provide the building owner with design alternatives
that go beyond the non-collapse and life safety baseline that exists in
current building codes.  Engineers define "performance" in terms of a
limiting damage state. Damage to structural elements, non-structural
elements, building contents and site utilities are all considered in
establishing the performance level. The building owner is able to consider
the potential earthquake hazard to the building and a level of financial
investment to obtain a predictable level of performance in the face of the
defined hazard.

According to Mr. Luttrell, "Improving the seismic performance of new and
retrofitted structures is not so much a question of finding the right design
solution, but more a question of finding the right incentive to stimulate
the property owner into investing in the future."

Luttrell and the engineering professionals at SEAOC acknowledge the economic
reality of persuading building owners to spend more dollars on the design of
a building than is now legally required. However, they believe that by
providing understandable choices and a reasonable expectation of what those
dollars are buying, more decisions will be made to invest in design
alternatives. In the long term, structural engineers believe these initial
investments will save additional lives and billions of dollars in damage
from future earthquakes.

I take exception to this article for multiple reasons. It starts out as an
advertisement for Structural Engineers and indirectly negates 50% of the
SEAOC membership who are qualified to practice on the building noted in the
statement. I especially take exception to the inaccuracies of the first two
paragraphs and the spokesman - the SEAOC office manager. Nowhere in Mr.
Allen Goldstein's title or biography does it alert the public that he is not
an engineer but rather an employee hired and maintained by professional

The blame is not Goldsteins, but Ken Luttrell's - the current president of
SEAOC who has appointed Goldstein as spokesman for our profession. Goldstein
obviously does not know the difference between Civil and Structural
Engineers - or believes that only a Structural Engineer is qualified to
provide this type of service to the public. Possibly Goldstein believes that
only a Structural Engineer is capable of performing the service PROPERLY.

Luttrell allows Goldstein to redefine the limits of practice within our
profession. Goldstein is as any layman - a perfect example of ignorance in
the distinction of Civil and Structural engineers. Luttrell has allowed
Goldstein to establish new guidelines that the public can faithfully follow
in choosing the professional that they may feel is uniquely qualified to
serve them. The travesty is the allowance of our board of directors at state
level to let Goldstein perpetuate the ignorance and perform a disservice on
the same members they expect to extract a dues increase from.

I am personally appalled at my representatives at state level to have
allowed this article to be release to the public with such blatant
inaccuracies. It is an insult to the paid members - both Civil and
Structural. Worse, Luttrell allows Goldstein to perpetuate restraint of
trade by incorrectly portraying Structural Enginers as the only professional
authorized OR qualified to perform such work. Who do you believe the public
will hire the next time they require our services?

The board of directors may downplay the importance of a message like this,
but a large percentage of SEAOC members have been debating and trying to
work out reasonable solutions to problems related to the authorization of
title in our profession. The boards disregard for our efforts is evident by
allowing the release of this statement without consideration for its effect
upon the members and for not allowing the members to review a document which
can effect our ability to obtain work from the public. I personally take
this as a kick in our professional ass.

Irrespective of the general public, it is inexcusable for those who
represent us to believe that they can break the same ethics that they expect
the members to adhere to. They restrict Civils from using the title
Structural Engineer yet allow this statement to be released to the public
that perpetuates  misrepresentation of the SE title by implying unlawful
exclusions. I can forgive the layman who mistakenly reports this error in
the press, but this is a prepared statement by professionals - worse yet-
who are elected to support us.

The fact that the members of SEAOC have not seen the draft of this public
statement until one month after its release is appalling. SEAOC has had the
ability to place any and all documents such as those contained in the Plan
Review on the SEAOC server for three years. There is no excuse for their
actions on this matter and I hope that those decision and policy makers who
read this have the guts to apologize to each member of our profession who
they have elected to negate.

This is my medium to express my opinions and I hope I have the support of
the list members. At some point, I will need to decide who deserves the
money I allocate for dues - SEAOC, CELSOC, ASCE etc. SEAOC may or may not
get my vote, but as of today, they are on very shaky ground. If membership
is the only card I hold that will awaken those asleep at the wheel then it
may turn out to be an effective deterrent to this kind of inexcusable

I hope that those of you who do agree have the guts to follow your
conviction. We have little recourse to this kind of indifference once the
damage has been done. Voting against offending board members does little to
repair the damage, however, taking our dues elsewhere may be a suitable
deterrent. There is something terribly wrong with SEAOC when they work so
hard to destroy the careers of 50% of the members who they expect to extract
$10.00 more from - are they worth it? I'm not so sure anymore.


Dennis Wish PE
La Quinta, California
ICQ# 6110557

"Silence is the virtue of fools."
Francis Bacon