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Plan Check (was Re: Rigid Wood Diaphragm?)

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I feel compelled to respond to this, although this subject has raised its ugly head many times before! 

The merits of plan check process, simply put, is having another set of eyes review the construction documents to ensure important aspects of design meet the intent of the code. It's not an issue of who is ultimately responsible, or whether the design professional is competent or not. Even the most competent structural engineers, or their associates in the office, make mistakes that could possibly have major ramifications. We are all humans, afer all.

One of the best examples of this is the case of William LeMessurier, whose story has been chronicled in several media articles including the New Yorker. In his case, he discovered that he had miscalculated the size of braces required for a 52 story building that was already built and occupied. Had another set of eyes looked at the design, it could possibly have been caught at the construction document stage. The same goes for the Hyatt Regency balcony collapse, etc.

Going through the sometimes uncomfortable process of plan review (especially with some plan checkers) could be a real pain. However, that is small price to pay in protecting the life and limb of the public at large. I personally would welcome any constructive feedback on the approach and details of any problems that I try to solve. And, I wish we could all put our egos and cynicism aside and work for what's best for the community.

Ben Yousefi, SE
Santa Monica, CA

>>> pfeather(--nospam--at)SE-Solutions.net 10/13/03 08:56AM >>>
I apologize in advance for the long rant.


This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately.  I have
always considered plan check as a simple formality.  I would never dream of
actually believing that the plan review process was a check of my design.

Two recent cases in point out of many:

1.    Plan review comments regarding anchorage of masonry walls to the
plywood diaphragm.  There wasn't any masonry on the job.

2.    My own barn, where I am the client and the engineering was provided by
the companies engineer.  In my review there were multiple discrepancies,
calc's that were not reflected in the drawings, improper diaphragms, no
seismic checks, and then the system was over yield if an analysis was
performed.  The only comments from the plan review?  The decorative railing
that merely separated two areas of equal grade needed the picket spacing to
be 4" max per chapter 10 of the UBC; a code provision that does not even
apply to the condition.  Nothing was noted regarding all the other issues.


The problem with this is that both reviewers were licensed PE's.  Is it the
plan review process that is broken or are the requirements to practice as a
PE so lax that the title is meaningless?  Given a simple project with maybe
2 or 3 areas that really should be reviewed, I would be willing to bet that
they will not be if the areas are not listed in the preprinted check list.

Is it the plan review process where we need to expend our energy to try and
improve the system, or the requirements (and enforcement) to be qualified as
a PE?  Is the PE who performs a completely inadequate review at fault (the
governing agency takes no liability) or the PE who produces inferior work
either from ignorance or under the guise that there are inadequate fees
involved to perform a proper job (this was actually stated to me on my
barn).  If I had been a non-engineer, I would have been provided with a
non-code compliant engineered and approved structure, and let's face it, the
requirements for an agricultural building are not hard to meet.  Blessfully,
when the barn manufacturer became aware of the issues, they made all the
modifications necessary without question and were actually pleased to have
the issues pointed out to them.  They wanted to provide a quality product,
which is why they hired an independent PE to provide their designs.

This is not isolated to my barn experience.  PE's who issue inferior work
and who charge inadequate fees bring down the integrity of our entire
profession.  How many times have you not been awarded a project, and then
been shocked by the fee the project actually paid to your competitor?  How
can they provide proper service for so little you ask?  They can't, and
won't.

The weight of the responsibility cannot rest on the governing authority to
perform detailed structural review.  Many smaller jurisdictions cannot
afford to hire competent engineering staff to review the work of someone who
is supposed to be a PROFESSIONAL.  How many times have you felt like plan
check response was an unpaid educational seminar? Nor is there adequate time
for a plan reviewer to really check a project that may have taken months to
design.  In my mind the plan reviewer is supposed to be looking only for the
blatant non-compliance issues, especially in the non-structural realm,
expecting more is un-realistic.  The weight of responsibility to provide
adequate design is the engineer's.

How this is accomplished and enforced I do not know.  Is it stronger
licensing laws and requirements?  Mandatory continuing education? More
aggressive self-policing of our industry, with more than a slap on the wrist
for egregious violations of what should be our ethical conduct?

As I said, I don't know, but I am thinking about it.


Paul Feather PE SE


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