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An Update from the SEAOC Communications Committee

Wednesday, June 7, 2017  

By Ken O'Dell, SE, Chair, SEAOC Communications Committee

As the axiom for real estate goes, location, location, location; it can be suggested a core tenet of working in today’s immensely corroborative A/E/C environment should be Communication, Communication, Communication. Within SEAOC, made up of the four regional member organizations, the ability to be the voice of the Association and the Structural Engineering Profession at a statewide level requires the ultimate fruition of the Communication edict. While this is accomplished across the many facets of SEAOC, perhaps one place where it all comes together is in the SEAOC Communications Committee. With members of each MO participating in this committee, a shared voice is created to help the Association speak with a singular authority. Working with the SEAOC Executive Committee, the Communications Committee helps create content, whether for immediate publication following a particular event, such as the Napa Earthquake or the Berkeley balcony failure, or in developing long term position papers to provide consistency across the MO’s.

The committee’s mission, “To create a positive image of California structural engineers in the minds of the various stakeholders, as major contributors to the quality of life in our communities and the safety of our built environment”, is a broad one. While the mission is broad, the goals, “to increase the public’s awareness of the role structural engineers play in assuring the safety of our built environment”, and “to inform the public that they as individuals can increase the safety, soundness and security of structures and infrastructures in their communities by engaging the help of structural engineers”, are focused.  Behind these goals stands the main purpose of the committee, “to bring value to being a member of the Association”.

One avenue to increasing membership value is the ability to strengthen our voice within the A/E/C community. The strength of the Association is most evident when our endeavors create change within the industry. SEAOC accomplishes change through many ways, whether by advocacy at the legislative level with partner associations; providing education programs and publications for members, such as the Structural Seismic Design Manuals; working with Code development teams to update and implement code changes; or working with researchers and materials developers to create new ways of creating structures, to name but a few. With each of these endeavors our voice becomes stronger when the Association leads the conversation. As our industry changes, we should be able to look to the Association to help in conversations with clients. In today’s industry, strength is maintained through relevancy and relevancy addresses necessary change in the advancement of the Structural Engineering Profession.

When we individually present code changes, enhanced design opportunities, new materials, etc. to a client, we carry a singular voice, however when we can say that our professional Association recommends, or is behind, an idea, we then speak with the voice of 3000+ professional practicing engineers.

To accomplish this, the Communications Committee has been developing position papers to help establish common ground from which to start conversations. In the initial stages, these position papers are geared toward common language for release during or after a natural disaster such as an earthquake. However, our goal is to help generate common positions across the multiple activities being advanced by the numerous statewide and regional MO committees. Working with the committees to vet the positions, we can assure that all SEAOC members are able to speak with their client with knowledge of association positions and the strength of the Association behind them. Creating and sustaining this dialogue within our Association establishes a consistent message. Just as change is important to maintain relevancy, consistency in message is important in strengthening the position of each of our members.

Unfortunately, change can often be seen as a negative, and consistency of message requires a listener. To address this, the Communications Committee is engaged in conversations reviewing and formulating ideas for the enhancement of our “listener” pool. In this effort, we are looking to use the Excellence in Structural Engineering (EiSE) Awards to better celebrate our contributions to the community. While the regional MO convention committee leads the efforts in running the annual EiSE awards process, the Communications Committee helps steer the award criteria and selection process. Currently, SEAOC and the 4 MO’s effectively run 5 distinct EiSE award programs, winning, or losing, or not submitting, in one does not affect entry in the others. In the coming year, we hope to begin changing this format. The committee has recommended the awards programs be consolidated into a singularly focused effort to award the projects which best exemplify true Excellence in Structural Engineering across the State. We are looking to have the regional MO based awards programs remain focused on the best accomplishments of their regional members, then the winners (Excellence and Merit Awardees) will be advanced to the State convention awards where the best of the best will be celebrated. Celebrations attract an audience, by Celebrating our Excellence, SEAOC will gain increased recognition for what we do and how and why we do it.

By celebrating our work, creating consistency in our message, and validating necessary change, SEAOC provides strength behind each of our members. The Communications Committee is one resource available to the Association to help carry this forward. As with all things SEAOC, this doesn’t take place overnight and it doesn’t take place without the hard work of volunteer members. The committee is made up of individuals with a shared passion for elevating the profession of Structural Engineering to impact and strengthen the goals and careers of each of our members. Expanding committee membership is vital to sustaining the mission of SEAOC, if you have a passion to share ideas, please get involved.