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Bonnie, Charlie, Frances, and Ivan

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(Warning - this got really long, but I think it's important)

There has been major devastation across Florida and the Gulf Coast, and I'm
sure all of the engineers on this list are hoping for a speedy recovery, be
it in the form of praying, meditating, humming, or just plain wishing for

Trying to see the silver lining amid all this devastation, I see this as a
chance for the advancement of Structural Engineering.  How many of you on
the Gulf coast have had clients bash you for "over-engineering" (I believe
an earlier client quote was, "but it doesn't get that windy here!")?  How
many of you had clients leave and go to other designers for the same reason?
What about residences that were never looked at by an SE?

Typically, if engineers try to increase public safety during a "calm" period
they are thwarted by developers and construction companies, their lobbyists,
and their large political donations.  All the engineer can say is that there
MIGHT be a major event sometime in the future, maybe in 100 years.  When the
developer responds with, "This new regulation will increase the cost of new
houses by xx%.  People won't be able to afford houses.  I won't build in
this area anymore", the developer wins.

After a major catastrophe, for a very short period of time, the engineer has
physical evidence.  For a very short period of time, the powers-that-be can
SEE the physical and fiscal impact of a hurricane, and can see that it
greatly outweighs any financial cost to developers and contractors.  For a
very short period of time, the time-honored argument of "But I've been
building this way for xx years with no problems" WILL NOT WORK.

After this short period, the power will be back on, the debris will be
picked up, houses re-built, and the memory of the catastrophe will fade.  It
will be replaced by the day-to-day realities of buying food and saving for
that dream home, which of course should be built as fast and cheap as

NOW is the chance to do something.

Go around and take pictures of failures.  Try to determine if they were the
result of a poor design or poor construction.  If an entire subdivision was
destroyed, try to determine if all the houses were built by the same
contractor.  Talk to homeowners. 

With this evidence, write letters to newspapers (both to reporters and as
"opinion" pieces).  Mention specific houses, with quotes from the now
homeless owner, and say something like "if $x,xxx extra had been spent on
anchors, shear walls, and better inspection, this particular residence would
have survived and this poor person would currently have a roof".  Try to get
the general public interested.

Write letters to insurance companies, but instead of emphasizing the
inconvenience to the homeowner, emphasize the dollar cost.  Try to get the
insurance lobbyists interested.

Write letters to government officials urging adoption of mandatory
inspections SEPARATE FROM THE DESIGN CONTRACT.  Emphasize the loss of life,
loss of taxes, costs of repairs, and costs of emergency services.

Officers of SEAOA, SEAOG, ASCE local branches (city and state) should write
letters to all of the above voicing the "official" position of their

Good luck.

Jason W. Kilgore, PE, SE
Project Engineer
Leigh & O'Kane, LLC
Kansas City, Missouri
(Mississippi Native)

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