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RE: Plan Checking

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Hi Bob

I guess by now you have had a lot of responses. 

I have plan checked for the past 20 years this was after working 4 years in
private practice. After 4 to 5 years I will return to private practice.

I will try to explain some of your concerns:

Why plan checkers are needed:

The following are clear cases of a plan check engineer being useful as a
second pairs of eyes on a job:

1- Some fellow engineers sometimes chose to practice outside areas of
expertise for example if some one has designed sewer lines and street for
years and he /she deiced to make some money on the side and starts producing
structural calculations on odd jobs here and there!. These folks will
greatly benefit from a structural plan check engineer that is familiar with
the seismic design provisions and  systems.

2- Some fellow engineers might be in a fee competition for a job and if
budgets are low some times complete design are not produced to cover some of
the basic or non basic  requirements of seismic detailing and design. Again
these engineers actually welcome the plan check engineers because they will
be given a deficiency list  to at least cover some of the issues that might
have been missed.

3- Some of the engineers might not have noticed that a new code is in effect
and may use 1994 UBC in 1998? again plan check engineers will be effective
in reminding and may be helping to up date the level of code knowledge to
design to the most current codes. I have had fellow structural engineers
refer to as " he is my teacher"

4- The competent engineers some time may also have some set of plans that
may have a small problem so its always useful to have a second eye on the
job  as no one is perfect.

 I tell this story to the  contractors  all the time specially  when they
 " These engineers did the wrong detail or do not know what they are doing
etc.".  ?? My answer to them is , structural engineer dose not get second
and third chances to design  like the aerospace engineer or the mechanical
engineer. If a structural engineer designed a 10 story building this is it,
he can not make one and say OK lets build this one to see how it behaves
then throw this away and make another one. To built a car or aircraft they
make a prototype and test it and rebuild it for years before they go on
production. But a building is not a car or a plane and the structural
engineer dose not have that luxury to actually test his design and after few
buildings are  built as testers then build one that is perfect. So errors ,
field changes and constructibility issues will arise . In fact the
structural engineer is doing a very good job because his first design is
actually  built this is  excellent .

I am in Palmdale at Edward's Air Force base we have the test facilities for
flight tests. So during the flight test the test pilots check the planes
functions and its capabilities. These test go on for months and often time
on full scale real products that are just produced for testing. Plan check
is a  water down version of this in the case of  building i.e. plan check
engineer ensures that they use 125 lbs/ft if its storage , they use the
correct near source factor for this area, the correct seismic design
resisting systems , load path review , foundation capacities etc.

If a plan checker has a problem with a design professional , its should be
resolved in a most customer friendly manor. As you say the engineer is
signing plans. If disagreements persist , usually ICBO or some other piers
such as seismology committee or even other experts can be contacted and the
standard of care and the code compliance can be researched for the benefit
of life safety.

As mentioned the Los Angles regional code committee is a good source also
for reference in case of need for clarification because they are producing
uniform documents for interpretations.  There is also a new book by the SEA
and the ICBO called The 2000 IBC structural application Guide . This has
numerous questions and answers to structural engineering questions that
relate to the code. 

As to your point of uniformity of plan check I agree. Not all plan checkers
are engineers and smaller areas my have non engineers review plans. Some
time they do not want to pay for the engineers as plans checkers or have no

This creates a lot of problems like you say ,  because the applicant is
confused that 50 miles away his license and  stamp was all needed even if
calculations said base shear is 0.007W?. But next city applicant gets a list
of corrections addressing the deformation compatibility , slip joints in
reentrant corners , Em for discontinues elements etc. So this lack of
uniformity is not helpful. 

As to level of knowledge I am sure the design professional knows his stuff ,
but I can not say how many times I have to ask for calculations of Em where
the shear walls do not stack up in wood framed buildings as required  under
the 1998 CA code. Further the engineers ask me to fax them examples of how
to calculate these things. I have the biggest office in the city of Palmdale
and in my office you will find copies of seismic design manuals 1, 2 3,and
notes of all seminars by SEAOC  that covered these,  SEAOC blue book with
tabs and  highlights, the seminar notes of each and very seminar by SEAOC
during the past 4 years ..,Latest book by Farzad Naeim on seismic design,
every seminar by ICBO on seismic design, every seminar by ATC FEMA on Steel
design, all current codes ,  structural license  review class notes by CV
Cheloptai, all books on theory of strength of materials structural analysis
PCA ,AISC, and the latest in codes as required by CA.  So I consider myself
very well informed , in helping fellow engineers specially when some of them
tell me that they do not have the 1997 UBC in their  offices as of yet!. 

Our fax machine works overtime because we fax examples of how things are
done to engineers that want to know . I have made 3 -5 inches binders of
examples of how things are done per code based on the 1997and each example
is in different plastic cover ready to be faxed out if some one needed them
as part of their job submittal to us. I found that engineers welcome input
on code issues as they may not have time to attend all meetings and keep up
with the latest and plan checkers can be a great help

I attend a lot of seminars for example this Monday I was in a class by DR SK
GOSH in Long beach  dealing with seismic design, yesterday we had SEAOC
seminars on wind design and snow design, Friday I will be at USC for tall
buildings structures seminar. I attend all ICBO and SEAOC seminars and
classes religiously. I have signed up for the seminar on the seismic design
book in June .

 This means that if plan check engineers keep up with the state of the art
the design professional design engineers that submit plans for review  can
only benefit. The code is a legal document made up of words in a legal
fashion , engineers like numbers and examples. 

The usefulness of the seminars that I take be it from FEMA steel moment
connections to tilt up to concert to masonry design is that  it brings out
the obscurity of items in the code through examples and numbers. So when
most engineer do not do Em in wood design its due to  the fact that its
obscure in the code and  the ICBO/SEAOC/ATC seminars clearly show with
pictures and examples as to where Em applies in wood design and how to
calculate it.

 This definitely beats a small print statement about Em in the code. Also
when I attended a 2 day seamier on FEMA 350 by professor Machin and all
those people who produced it , I get a first hand explanation of how the pre
qualified connections work and I hear it from the people who produced the
document again it beats reading a book without explanation or knowing the
intent of the author. For example I the enjoy seminar on dynamic analysis by
Ron Hamburger or ASHRAF , that I have attended, I could read a book but the
way it is explained by Ron or Ashraf ( He is the producer if SAO 2000) is no
match to just reading it, Or I take a seminar by John Ship on wood design,
he is a wealth of information on this subject  and I learn and ask question
that helps greatly .So its a lot said for active participation 

So that you know Bob my knowledge is pretty wide based due to exposure to
many different projects during the past 20 years, . I was ranked number 1 in
my structural engineering masters degree class in Sheffield university in
UK, I was accepted by DR Chen at the Purdue university and professors Ramy
Taylor and Ramstad at UC Davis as well as university of Washington in
Seattle to study Ph.D. in structural engineering. At that time Purdue was
ranking 4 Th. in the US after MIT , Berkley and Stamford for civil

 So with that foundation I have 20 years of full time plan checking
experience that if you add the extra hours that I work its really 25 years
as I often work till 8 or 9 PM and during weekends.

By being super active in continuing education I keep my knowledge above the
norm and I have seen all types of structures , from domes to 10 story
buildings to military hangers , to hotels to million square feet tilt ups to
Ontario airport ( Dynamic analysis) concrete parking structures, concert
framed structures , stadiums etc. etc. so I have seen a lot of action and
got to know many many SE's that I respect and am proud to have known for
years. Your point  regarding knowledge of plan checkers  may be true or may
be  not but I consider myself lucky that I have actively been exposed to
various seismic resisting systems during my review of  building after
building in seismic zone 4 for the past 20 years.

 I strongly believe that Plan check should exhibit respect and cooperation
towards the design professional as they are on the same team.
That is the most important, we are on the same team to build a safe
Support of team members is essential and the times of plan checkers being
too dry and non users friendly is long gone. I learn from every professional
design engineer and respect them all, I also offer a second pair of eyes as
a team member on their design. 


> Original Message-----
> From:	Bob Hanson [mailto:Bobh(--nospam--at)]
> Sent:	Wednesday, May 02, 2001 10:49 AM
> To:	seaint list
> Subject:	Plan Checking
> List,
> What or where is the line on what a structural plan check is supposed to
> provide. I have seen plan checks that check nearly nothing and the
> response is "you are stamping the drawings not me" to the far end of spell
> check. Does ICBO have a standard of performance? My view is plan check
> should try to catch gross errors, point to code sections that may not have
> been considered, and verify that there is enough information or quality
> into the documents to provide life safety and for the inspector to spot
> items of importance. If the EOR differs in his opinion on code sections we
> have a dilemma.  I think for the most part that a plan checker can not
> master all the materials and all the structure types nor be a master
> draftsperson/spelling checker. I feel it is the EOR with his nitch who
> should know every code item related to his submittal. If the EOR has a
> problem with what is required in the code he should not look to shoot the
> messenger.  In the case of a dilemma, or in the case of the EOR not
> feeling compliance is required(blatant items excepted) I think the EOR
> should be in control. Opinions?
> Bob Hanson, S.E.

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