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Techincal Peer Review Survey

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In an effort to generate renewed interest in the TPR on line survey (see link at left hand side bar of main Seaint.org web page; Technical Peer Review Survey---SEAOAL) please read the following. I know all of you guys in California, Miami Dade County, Gwinnett County - GA, Connecticut, Massachusetts and so on have your own special situations, so don?t take offense to any of the questions on the survey.
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Operational Peer Reviews (OPR) vs. Technical Peer Reviews (TPR) in the Structural Engineering Profession.

First off what is the difference between an OPR and a TPR. An OPR is an internal review of a company?s management methods and includes areas such as human resources, professional development, project management, business development, information technology management, QA/QC checks and other similar areas. OPR?s are conducted by independent engineers with experience in managing a firm of similar size. OPR?s are conducted by organizations such as the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and the Structural Engineers Risk Management Council (SERMC). Participation in an OPR typically results in a savings to the firm?s professional liability insurance premium.

TPR?s are project specific reviews that provide an independent check of the design for a particular job. The review typically includes a check of a representative percentage of the structural systems, members and details for their adequacy in order to allow the reviewer to form a basis for their conclusions. The review is typically conducted by an independent structural engineer with an appropriate background of knowledge with the type of building structure and materials used by the project. TPR?s are mandated for certain types of projects in Connecticut and Massachusetts. In a number of municipalities across the country, particularly on the West coast, mandatory plan/design checks provide a function similar to TPR?s. TPR?s are also conducted at the request of clients such as architects, developers, contractors and owners for both public and private projects.

So basically an OPR confirms that the proper mechanism, procedures and personnel are in place within an organization to assure that projects can be properly designed and managed. A TPR confirms that a specific project has in fact been designed competently. OPR?s are therefore proactive while TPR?s provide a QA/QC check of a specific project design. A good analogy of the relationship between an OPR and a TPR would be that of an ABET accredited engineering program and the Fundamentals Exam. The former assures that the proper curriculum is in place, the later confirms that the educational experience has been absorbed, understood and can be applied properly.

Currently within the industry most of the professional organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the previously mentioned ACEC and SERMC, only promote OPR?s. Interest in the mandatory implementation of TPR?s on the other hand has decreased during the 1990?s after several highly publicized structural failures between the late 1970?s and late 1980?s motivated Connecticut and Massachusetts to legislate a formal peer review process.

I have had experience with OPR?s as an employee of firms that participated in these reviews offered by the professional liability insurers. I have also had experience with TPR?s as both a reviewer and the reviewed. In my opinion both OPR?s and TPR?s are an invaluable tool in assuring public safety and welfare of both life and property. So from my perspective I don?t understand why there appears to be no current interest within my industry in the promotion of TPR?s.

To help better understand exactly how my peers feel on the subject I have recently submitted a proposal to the Business and Professional Activities Division (BPAD) of the ASCE Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) to research the current state of project specific TPR?s in the structural engineering profession in the U.S. At the conclusion of the research the results of study will hopefully be published in the ASCE Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice.

The scope of the proposed study includes:

1. Collect and review articles and papers that have been previously published on the subject of peer reviews. 2. Collect and review previously published TPR manuals and guidelines from industry organizations such as DPIC, CASE and ACEC. 3. Interview engineers who were involved with the development of mandatory TPR?s in Massachusetts and Connecticut. 4. Interview engineers associated with industry organizations such as SERMC, ASCE, etc.
5. Collect antidotal examples of TPR?s.
6. Conduct a survey of practicing structural engineers to gain insight into industry practices and opinions. (This portion of the process has already been started via an online survey, which has been posted on the SEA of Alabama Web Site, http://www.seaoal.com/, through the efforts of Michelle Ballew of Christy Cobb Consulting Engineers of Birmingham, Alabama)

So what am I trying to accomplish anyway? The real intent of this survey is to try and start the process of documenting the different types of project specific peer reviews that currently occur through out the U.S. From there I would like to build a consensus within the industry to try and develop a recommendation for the best path for the future. Should the process remain fragmented and under the jurisdiction of local municipalities and state governments as it currently now appears to stand, should we be trying to move towards the European model that involves an independent tier of ?Proof Engineers? (full time, licensed, peer review consultants) or is there a happy medium somewhere in between?

Is this effort in the best interest of practicing structural engineers? I think so, and eventually I will find out if my peers think the same way. If there is no interest in the subject then things will die a natural death, but for now I am just trying to further educate myself, and hopefully the industry, on the state of TPR?s in the U.S. and where best to go from here.

Thanks for your participation.

D. Matthew Stuart, P.E., S.E., P.Eng., M.ASCE/SEI/BPAD
Senior Structural Engineer
Schoor DePalma Engineers and Consultants
New Jersey

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