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RE: Philosophy: Seismic Design Standards

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Actually, Dennis, I agree with a lot of what you said (in fewer words, of

1.  There is no doubt that quality-of-construction issues are a major concern.
The 2000 IBC will represent a major improvement for areas where the UBC was not
previously adopted, because it will include the Quality Assurance provisions of
the NEHRP (which are similar to the current UBC provisions).   From a national
perspective, in many small midwest towns, the designated building official is
the fire marshall.  Generally, this official's only concern has been that the
engineer and contractor are licensed, and that the fire codes are met.  The IBC
will represent a major change in responsibility for this areas, although not
much of a change in California.
2.  Certainly we need to provide better education, certification and supervision
of the building trades.  There is a word for this, which has previously been
regarded as a dirty word in the construction business (at least in California).
It's called a labor union.  Until the owner is willing to pay a higher price for
construction, unskilled workers will still be found on construction sites, doing
the things they do.
3.  Actually, insurance companies DO pay engineers to review and rate buildings
for seismic resistance.   However, it tends to involve only very large and
valuable facilities.  For small capital risks, the insurance companies recognize
that it is less expensive to evaluate their risk based on statistical data than
to pay an engineer to assess the risk.
4.  Simplified codes and design practices are a great idea.  BSSC has had a
committee looking into developing a simplified code, and SEAOC seismology has
informally talked a few times about developing a "Blue Book Lite" that would be
focussed on small simple buildings.  The building code in all aspects seems to
be getting more complicated all the time.  Now it seems to be moving in the
direction of performance-based design, which is not likely to be of much
interest to the designers of small structures.  Why do we have a code that is
written to accomodate only 5 to 10 percent of the buildings that are built, when
the other 90 to 95 percent only need something quick and easy?  If these trends
continue, the building code may eventually need to be split apart into a "small
building code" and a "large building code."  One problem is that any simplified
code is likely to specify more conservative forces and capacities than a complex
building code, and market forces may tend to force engineers to still use the
complex code to provide "most economical" structures.
5. Regarding engineers and designers who practice outside the limits of their
experience, I suppose most engineers have been drawn into those situations at
one time or another.  It's how those engineers respond to those situations that
matters.  A good role model that I know is Lynn Howard, who is quick to bring in
other engineers to supplement his skills on projects.  Before taking on new
types of work, engineers need to know what their limits are, and not be shy
about asking for help.  We are competitors, but we are also a community.