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RE: structures & ethics

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It seems that the life safety issue claim is one that has to be approached with much care, such as when reviewing an existing structure that appears to "defy" the laws of physics in your own engineering calculations and still stand as was anecdotally described earlier in this thread of discussion. It is straightforward to report to the owner the code deficiencies and problems, inform them of the elements of risk or liability as a result of the deficiencies, and to discuss hazard mitigation, but it is altogether another matter to involve the building official. Imagine the scenario in which you, the hired engineer, determines that the structure "poses a life safety issue" based on your load and material assumptions and unilaterally reports to the building official. Your now former client obtains a second engineering opinion in which the matter is no longer posing "a life safety issue" and sues you. You are now left to defend your actions against another "expert" and furthermore, have brought a code enforcement element to the owner which may have created tangible costs. Be prepared to go to court to resolve issues which involve financial damages generated as a result of the differing engineering opinions and code compliance. I'm not saying that life safety issues should not be reported, but I am saying that it should be done with solid evidence to back you up. All your opinions, your expert judgment, should be documented.

In the case of this building being discussed, since physical damage has already been observed, and repairs made necessary, I assume that a building repair permit is in process, and a communication channel back to the building official (e.g. the building inspector) is already established.

Best regards,

Thomas Honles, SE, PE
Los Angeles, CA

-----Original Message-----
From: Gautam MANANDHAR [mailto:GMANANDH(--nospam--at)ci.alameda.ca.us]
Sent: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 1:59 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: RE: structures & ethics


Bill-

If the building posed a life safety issue, then by all means, the
engineer has a moral duty to inform the client and the building
official.  You rightly indicated that "Deflections can be an indicator
of a problem but also can be just the result of the normal naterial
behavior of wood.  They are a warning sign, nothing more, nothing less."
 I am presuming that serviceability is not an issue as Steve did not
mention about it.  

The building currently is, and has been for the last 30 years,
overstressed based on code forces and code allowable stresses.  It has
been through two earthquakes and now has been hit by a car.  (I am
assuming - and I may be wrong - that except for the area that was hit by
the car, the building shows no distress sign.)  Unless the building is
in snow country, the roof may not see the full code live load.  As Steve
and others stated, the factor of safety is between 4 to 6; the
overstress for DL+LL was 70%.   With all these facts, I do not see why I
cannot use Chapter 34 of the code.   Of course, if there are other sign
of distress which Steve has not discussed, then the reasons mentioned
above may be meaningless.

Gautam

>>> BCainse(--nospam--at)aol.com 11/23/2004 12:40:14 PM >>>
Gautam-
The real issue raised by Steve is not really the serviceability issues
such as deflection which he noted in passing as supporting his concerns
but rather they were about basic structural safety and his professional
responsibilities relating thereto. Deflections can be an indicator of a
problem but also can be just the result of the normal naterial behavior
of wood.  They are a warning sign, nothing more, nothing less.

I applaud Steve's efforts to methodically and carefully look at the
structure and seek second opinions.  Based on some information he sent
me off-list, I now don't believe he has a life-safety concern requiring
immediate warnings or action involving the Building Official although
stresses are about as high as one would want to see in such a structure.
 Deflections may be creep related or material related.  As Dennis Wish
has pointed out, wood is not a uniform material, but its
non-uniformities do not necessarily require major upgrades.

Steve has provided great service to his client in following up on
concerns that developed in the course of his investigations and seeking
to resolve questions he had. He has recieved good advice from several on
the list and I believe will now make the decisions he needs to make
based on sound reasons.  He is basically a careful structural engineer
keeping his client's and the public's interests in the forefront.

Regards,
Bill Cain SE
Berkeley CA



 

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