To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org, aec-residential(--nospam--at)polhemus.cc
Subject: Re: Ref: Exposure D Wind / People In Authority, etc.
From: Charles Greenlaw <cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)speedlink.com>
Date: Fri, 09 Jun 2000 11:16:03 -0700
Yesterday, Audra Ranous posted these insightful and relevant points on
influencing the codewriting processes. Her points provoke some further ones,
which follow, on big issues in that process.
>Dear Engineering Community:
>Please do not lose sight that building codes are developed to create a
>minimum standard and uniformity of application so that we, the
>unsuspecting, ill-informed, non-engineering community may have some
>level of 'guarantees' that building practices and their resulting
>structures are relatively habitable, safe and appropriate to the area
>(taking into account known and projected unknown hazards.....)
>"Government by the few for the benefit of the many" is the way it is:
>the only way to change (and hopefully improve) this system is for more
>proactive participation and knowledgeable involvement from the
>engineering community. Laws, codes, and standards may make heads
>spin--but you cannot address the issues by griping about how things are
>done. It is slow and tedious and thankless--but working from within is
>the only way to change things.
>Hopefully this 'descending thread' will spark interest among those who
>are seeking their licensure and encourage the community to work together
>for the betterment of all--engineering professionals and the public at
I would offer however that proactive participation and knowledgeable
involvement affirmatively includes the engineering community's dissenting
opinions --griping included-- that are expressed in forums which include the
"Working from within" to change things is good counsel. But where are the
boundaries of "within"? Is SEAOC's Seismology Committee a committee of the
whole, where every SEAOC member who has an opinion also has a seat on the
committee? Does every interested engineer have a seat at BSSC, FEMA, and
NEHRP, where input from Seismology Committee and others is considered? Some
non-SEAOC agencies use a balloting outreach, but I understand dissenters get
short shrift at the pleasure and convenience of agency chairpersons, thus
balloting can be something of a sham.
In civic government there are the initiative and referendum mechanisms where
all voters, with equal power, control the outcome, and voters may initiate
the voted-on measure independent of the governmental "few". But mostly we
elect public officials, who campaign for our approval, to represent the
interests of the "many". In engineering matters, we join professional
societies that we expect to represent us, to be responsive to our needs, and
to serve our interests. That way not all of us have to crowd into committee
rooms en masse.
The question is, do engineering societies like SEAOC truly represent their
membership, or only in the way Chicago city government famously does, where
you (gasp) have to work from within?
I asked SEAOC President Ron Hamburger about this in an introductory part of
my 4/27/00 Seaint list posting that replied to his posting on Rho Factor and
"Thanks, Ron, for your furtherance of information on these matters.
"It sure seems to me that the Seismic Code is no less a political
football being struggled over, than Elian Gonzales has been.
"Except that in the case of the Cuban boy, only himself and a few
family members have a material interest in the outcome. The rest of us are
spectators. But with seismic code, all professional practitioners subject to
correctly heeding it have substantial, serious interests in it. But where is
our representation in the process? I mean the representation that informs us
and solicits our views, and looks out for how we will be affected in
practice by what's adopted. We designers out here are a special interest
group, in many ways as the prey of predators; who's our lobbyist?"
I asked him, where is our representation that looks out for us; who's our
lobbyist? I was asking the SEAOC President this question. He did answer. The
answer dismays me. His complete, verbatim reply:
"Where are your advocates? You are your advocates. The listserver
is widely read, though many prefer not to respond as it draws them into long
discussions such as this one. The arguments put forward are listened to,
and weighed with other evidence in the process."
OK, I get it. I am a MemberSE in a SEAOC Member Association. But I am not a
constituent of the SEAOC President, nor of the SEAOC Seismology Committee.
Another local SEAOC association, Southern, maintains a handy e-mail
listserver, and I am welcome to represent myself by posting arguments on it.
I am my own lobbyist who has to look out for my own SE practice interests, I
gather. Certainly SEAOC has clout in part because of the community of SE's
who belong, whose interests and consent are presumed manifested in SEAOC's
code proposals. But those members' interests seem not to be acknowledged by
the SEAOC leadership, not to my rather direct inquiry about it. Our consent
is not sought. We are apparently patsies whose dues and weight of numbers
are merely "used" by the leadership, acting on its own behalf.
But is the SEAOC leadership actually SEAOC's? Or are they really FEMA
operatives, or NEHRP loyalists, who acquire and use their SEAOC positions
both to enhance their own stature and to hold SEAOC back from effectively
participating as an independent, genuinely membership-representing voice?
Is Seismology Committee an independent body to represent SE's generally, or
is it to represent itself for its own pleasure? Or maybe Seismology
Committee is really only a non-independent prep school for BSSC membership
and a farm club for the big-league NEHRP franchise, and has to mind its
place and train aspiring candidates for positions with those agencies?
If so, then one recourse is to gripe about the process on this widely read
e-mail list, like Ron Hamburger suggested. Readers beyond SEAOC leadership,
perhaps including some of the "within" people, may be receptive.
Charles O. Greenlaw SE Sacramento CA