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A Message from SEAOC President Janah Risha

Tuesday, November 7, 2017  

By Janah Risha, PE, SE, F. ASCE, SEAOC Board President 2017-2018

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the President of SEAOC, an organization that I consider to be the crown jewel of the structural engineering profession. SEAOC is the largest and oldest structural engineering association in the world. Its imprint on the way buildings are designed today in California and throughout the world is undeniable.  From developing the first seismic codes some 80 years ago to being the standard bearers for structural engineering and seismic safety today, we have, undoubtedly, saved tens of thousands of lives worldwide.  And of that, we should be very proud.  We should also be proud of what the four member organizations have achieved.  We have done so much; and there is still much more to be done, especially at a time when we have to compete for exposure, relevance and resources.

The strength of SEAOC is derived from its prolific committees.  To assist me in helping focus the SEAOC efforts, I’ve reached out to a few chairs of committees to share with me the single most important challenge or issue that their committee is facing.  

From the Professional Licensing and Certification Committee I learned that California could be doing a much better job in protecting the public by ensuring that “significant structures” are designed by engineers with the proper education, experience, and examination.  Rather than falling behind much of the rest of the country, California must regain its leadership role in protecting the public.

I do believe this is one of the pivotal issues that faces us today.  We need to renew our focus on enacting a Structural Engineering practice act in California.  Perhaps one way that can help in this process is to tie resiliency to the SE practice act.  What better way to ensure that our built environment is resilient than to require that most structures are designed by the professionals who have the appropriate credentials, namely Structural Engineers?

From the Communications Committee, we hear that their single most important challenge is how to get us to celebrate and promote ourselves and our profession. Whether inward facing communications of sharing what committees are doing or outward facing communications to share what our profession is doing, we do not do enough to raise our profile in the community.  

We are indeed challenged in this arena.  I’d like to initiate a speakers bureau as part of the Communications Committee, consisting of a few excellent public speakers that are available to present to various local grassroots organizations, such as the Boys and Girls clubs, YMCAs, Scouts, Kiwanis, Elks, and similar groups about our great profession, and its societal contributions.  It is a wonderful way to reach many people and showcase who we are.  And perhaps it is time to hire a professional PR and advertising firm that can help us craft a message that resonates with the public.

From several other committees, I have heard a recurring theme, that unfortunately can be summed up by lack of participation, limited engagement, too few volunteers, often due to the “competition” we face with a seemingly endless list of other organizations. 

Also, today, unlike years past, we have to compete for exposure and relevance.  How do we stay relevant when general access to information is so easy? How do we attract members, contributors, and engaged participants, when there are many other competing organizations vying for these same people? So possibly the issue is not that we don’t have enough volunteers; perhaps we are taking on too much. 

I firmly believe that each of us needs to choose where we put our efforts and resources and we need to choose wisely. We have to be focused and disciplined. We need to be able to continue to differentiate ourselves, while being mindful of our precious resources, committing to areas where we can be the most relevant and effective.

To that effect, your Board has adopted a long range plan consisting of items covering Membership, Advocacy, Technical Resources, and Stewardship.  These items have been prioritized and assigned to the entity best suited to champion that item.  This effort will be lead by Jeff Ellis who will oversee the process of implementing the long range plan.

On a more sobering note, in the wake of Harvey, Irma, and the 8.1 Magnitude Mexico Earthquake, we are reminded that Resiliency cannot be just a buzz word.  These events are a wake-up call for all of us in California that we need to act locally by supporting the initiatives that have the best chances of success in implementing tangible steps in our State that will ensure our economic survival post a large event.  One such undertaking is the Seismic Resiliency Initiative by CALBO.  The goal of the SRI is to promote resiliency efforts statewide, to improve the performance of buildings and reduce social and economic risks following a major California earthquake. They expect to achieve these objectives through legislation that will combine both mandatory and incentivized action as well as other methods.  Supporting such an initiative is a good example of how we can be most effective, especially once we achieve the enactment of an SE Practice Act, as I discussed above.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize our executive director, Don Schinske, for his many years of service and his continued commitment to our organization.  He certainly has served SEAOC well and I look forward to working with him as we navigate the upcoming year.

Knowing the caliber of our members, and with your help, I am confident that we will meet any challenge head-on, and I’m open to your ideas and suggestions.  Please contact me directly at any time and I assure you that your thoughts will be heard and appreciated.

In conclusion, I’m humbled that you’re allowing me this opportunity to serve; and I am excited to be your President. This is a personal aspiration that I have been looking toward since I first became a member 29 years ago, and I will do my utmost to lead and guide our venerable association this coming year.

Thank you.