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Re: Ceiling deflection damage caused by   excessive snow - who  is responsible

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Reality is that the smaller municipalities / rural counties cannot afford the skilled personnel for structural review.  Basic plan check is rudimentary at best or sent out to a plan checking service.  Even simple questions can be difficult to get an answer to because they really don't know, and do not want to give an answer you are going to hang your hat on.  They would be better off referring you to the entity that actually performs their plan review.  The quality of the "out-house" plan checking services are also highly variable, from excellent to flat out missing the important things, or trying to dictate the engineering design through intransigence with regard to vague areas of interpretation (vicarious practice).
Some of the plan check services are actually excellent, and I am thankful when I see the review going to their offices.  It is always refreshing to deal with qualified people who you can actually discuss things with on a common plane.  A few of the out-house services are really really bad and are obviously under contract due to political connections rather than competence.  With some of the in-house review systems you may as well be talking greek and end up feeling like you should submit a bill for the seminar provided as part of structural plan review.  Again, reality dictates one cannot expect structural review in a few weeks for a project the engineer has lived and breathed for months.
The simplest way to deal with most basic questions is to ask if there are any published requirements in addition to the building code.  Most jurisdictions with higher local standards will at least have a sheet outlining what those requirements are.  The person on the phone may not know what the ground snow load is, but they will know to send out form X.
So the question ultimately boils down to "What is the purpose of plan review, and how effective is the current system in obtaining this goal?"  Without trying to be un-PC, plan review and the permit process is really about revenue, conforming with zoning and planning requirements, and general public safety.  For conventional "non-engineered" structures, typical plan review (structural) should be required for agreement that the structure qualifies for non-engineered construction.  With regard to engineered construction, the responsibility rests with the professional who is signing the drawings and carrying the liability.  Field inspection for conformance with the drawings is important, inspectors authorizing changes in the field should be prohibited. 
But we can't have it both ways: either we are responsible because we are the professional, or we require a highly skilled public entity to oversee our work and provide "approval".  Many states do not even require the submittal of structural calculations, we are supposed to be the responsible professional.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, March 05, 2005 12:47 PM
Subject: Re: Ceiling deflection damage caused by   excessive snow - who  is responsible

Joe, I empathize with you.  Ain't it great working for the gummint--you don't have to be responsible for your own actions; it's sort of like calling the IRS, you can't trust what they tell you.  (That should get me a lot of heated responses  :)  I know there are a lot of good people working for the government, but I hope they realize that they really aren't held to the same standards as those in private practice.) 

And if you're supposed to get answers only from the Head, why isn't the standard response to a question "Talk to the Head."  Along this line, I called 2 building department plan checkers near me with a very basic design load requirement question a week ago.  I couldn't get through to any live person in either city but my recorded message was answered by one city in 2 days, and not yet by the other city.  Their sense of time is also quite different from mine and that of my clients. 

I look forward to discussing this with my colleagues in government agencies.  Reminds me of long ago when I worked for a government agency as a first engineering job.  At 4:55 the rustling began as a low rumble as people got their belongings ready ... and at 5:00:00 pm you'd better not be standing in the corridors!  My particular little group was chastised many times for arriving a few minutes late in the morning, even though we typically worked a half-hour later than "the herd."  The Rules, not reality, were all that mattered to the managers.

Bottom line, you've just reinforced what I wrote:

Isn't this called incompetence?  What's the use of having a building department if they don't catch something as basic--and serious--as this?

Ralph Hueston Kratz, S.E.
Richmond CA USA

In a message dated 3/5/05 12:32:20 PM, Jnapd(--nospam--at) writes:
Counties and cities am not responsible for their employees lack of knowledge..........
This county said I was negligent because " I should have known the information given to me by the plan checker was not correct"..... a day in the life for engineers.

I designed a project in the same area as Dennis project. I was given 20 psf snow load by the plan checker, as they were filing out the permit his boss walked by and picked up the calc's and noticed the 20 psf snow load and proceeded to tell client this should be 45 psf your engineer screwed up, this needs to be revised.  (this had passed two plan checks at that point) .....The boss told the client that I should have talked to the head engineer not the plan checker.     
Outcome Client refused to pay for time to revise calcs.   
 Made up some time with site visits  Bad lesson learned
This was 14 years ago.