I want to draw one thing from Shafat's response into perspective that I
believe, as a SEAOSC board member, he should be cognizant of. Shafat stated
as I have in a past post:
"Last but not the least, you may want to include rigid diaphragm analysis
just to cover yourself from future law suits. What SEAOC says does not
matter in the court. What matters is what the building code says."
What the building code says IS the formal position of SEAOC Seismology and
Code committee. The law (or codification) is a result of the work created by
these committees and revised by the voting members of ICBO - without the
initial efforts of SEAOC, there would be no Chapter 16 in the UBC. You can
not relinquish responsibility for law by disassociating the organization
from the creation process. One does not exist without the other.
Those who practice steel, concrete and masonry may be passing compliments to
Seismology and Code committee and this is understandable - the code
methodology seems to work very well for these materials. However, no one
appears to take responsibility for wood structures. In the last month, I
received one letter from a friend and colleague who decided that rigid
diaphragm design was appropriate for residential structures - a reversal of
his position for almost a year. To be honest, I admire this engineer for
starting the debate with me once again. He was not afraid to evaluate the
work he was doing and to point out what he believed to be the benefits of
adhering to the pure physical science.
I reviewed his comments and disagreed with him based on issues of economics.
I have been told that we as professional engineers should never argue about
economics since we are only responsible for the design of safe structure -
irregardless of cost. I disagreed on the grounds that we design structures
based on degrees of performance expectations - storm drains evaluated for
various cases weighing loss of life to occurrence of large storms. How
different is a building to those who must pay for it. It was always my
understanding that structural design was intended to solve the problem while
preserving safety and economics. It is a balance that must be weighted
against loss of life and major structural damage.
My friend considered my response and wrote that possibly the answer was to
raise or remove the prescriptive lower standard so as to reduce and fine
tune the new methodology and thus, work toward the real goal, life safety,
mitigation of existing evaluated damages and consideration for economics.
His intent was to do something about it and work with those in the
profession who were willing to do some serious study and who were not afraid
to try and take on the conventions led by politics of other organizations.
So where are we today? Essentially what Shafat has stated is correct - the
published code is the final word. It does not matter how many building
departments allow less than full compliance, nothing matters until it is
tested in court. My hope was that there would be a resounding support for
what appears to be popular opinion in the profession. This support was
necessary to establish a professional standard of practice that would
mitigate the liability issues without going the whole nine yards to repeal
>From what I have heard (I did not receive SEAOC's Plan Review with Ron
Hamburgers comments) but the concession of SEAOC appears to be little more
than what Shafat has indicated in one sentence - the letter of the code
(law) is all that really matters. The plan review article - which was read
to me by another engineer since I had no (and still have not) received my
copy - was basically a personal opinion and not the combined efforts of
Seismology and Code committee.
With family problems (ailing parents)my support for immediate family is now
more important to me than my continuing battle with code issues. I am simply
unable to stay on top of the issues - something that will relieve many.
However, who assumes the responsibility of representing a portion of the
professional community plagued with apathy? Who is following up on whether
we are being pacified or whether we will truly be liability free and with a
simplified standard of design for wood framed construction?
Now here is what I intend to do. I intend to evaluate how well SEAOC is
representing the needs of the professional members when my dues renewal
becomes due. For sixteen years I have blindly renewed my support for SEA.
This year it won't be done blindly - but with much consideration. Some may
consider this inappropriate for me to state, but to me this is a fact of
life that each of use needs to evaluate when we put our signatures on our
I am afraid that this is one issue that will end up earning a lot of fees
for expert witness testimony in court. I tend to lose faith in my
professional representatives when forced to defend myself by establishing
code precedence in a courtroom rather than over a committee table.
Dennis S. Wish, PE
(208) 361-5447 Efax