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Farewell Message from SEAOC President Janah Risha

Friday, September 28, 2018  

By Janah Risha, SEAOC President 2017-2018

Jim Collins in his iconic book, Good to Great, writes that an organization resembles a bus with the President as the bus driver. And typically the driver decides who gets on the bus, what is the destination and how to get there. However SEAOC is a bit different. You see, SEAOC is actually a board of boards; the only SEAOC members are the four local member organizations and their representatives constitute the board of SEAOC. So in fact, the driver of the SEAOC bus, is really not the president but the board itself and together, collectively with the executive committee, the Board decides on the destination and how to get there. And we sure have had an exciting and meaningful journey this year, with some legs of this trip as thrilling as I’ve ever seen.  I’d even venture and say that perhaps this year your Board has been trailblazing.  So this year, the bus was more like an all-terrain 4-wheel-drive Jeep.

Certainly the unanimous Board vote back in January to endorse more than life safety as the desired minimum performance level for the seismic design of new structures is in by itself quite the achievement by the Board. This outcome came about by recognizing that what got us here (life safety), will not get us there; with the “there” being an economic recovery that ensures a natural disaster does not become a catastrophe. 

With the passage of a AB 1857 and AB 2681, our participation in which has been critical and even fundamental to the success of these bills, we are demonstrating to the world how important and relevant SEAOC is to the resilience movement. This achievement is due to a great extent to the work of the Legislative committee and its phenomenal and tireless chair Ryan Kersting who has championed the committee and this cause with the support of our executive director Don Schinske. Thank you Ryan and Don.

As I hope you all know by now, the long awaited Wind Design Manual is now available for purchase.  With a nationwide reach, the manual is a must have for every structural engineer.  We are anticipating a great sales volume, and we can certainly use the revenue to continue funding other publications and initiatives.   So please buy it and buy it frequently.  I’d like to thank the Wind Committee, its WDM subcommittee, and specifically James Lai whose leadership throughout the processes ensured that the manual is ready for this convention. I also would like to thank Emily Guglielmo, Steve Kerr, Ken Luttrell, and Norm Scheel who are also deserving of our appreciation. 

In addition to our success in the Legislative arena and the publication of the Wind Design Manual, we’ve had many other accomplishments: 

The Communications committee, with Ken O’Dell’s leadership, has been very busy with deploying the much improved Excellence in Structural Engineering Awards, with the support of Ashraf Habibullah and CSI,  as was experienced by all who attended the event at the convention!  WHAT AN EVENT! WHAT A PARTY! Also, the committee has embarked on developing content for use by speakers or SEAOC Ambassadors, as I’d like to call them. They are preparing additional development of presentation subjects and content and will be producing presentation templates for use by members and MO representatives.

Also this year, the Existing Buildings Committee has been very busy on multiple fronts.  With Daniel Zepeda’s leadership, the committee developed and refined a list of vulnerable building types, supporting the Legislative Committee lobbying efforts for AB 2681 in Sacramento.   Also they are completing their work on the Upcoming Design Guide for Seismic Risk Mitigation Ordinances for Pre-Northridge Steel Moment Frame Buildings.  Thank you Ken and Daniel and your committee for a job very well done.

This year also saw the initiation of the work on the 2018 Seismic Design Manuals.  Rafael Sabelli, Katy Briggs, and the authors will be working very hard to have the manuals ready for next year’s convention.  

And I would like to announce the formation of an Ad-Hoc committee on fire hazard, to explore how structural engineers can engage in this very deadly and damaging threat.  In addition to the technical aspects such as how best to conduct a fire damage assessment, and how to assess which parts of a structure are salvageable, I believe we should partake in the societal aspects as well:  from applying lessons learned from evacuation orders to Earthquake response, to having a plan in place to aid our colleagues who have been ordered to evacuate or who lost their homes, we bring a unique skill set that will prove very meaningful.  By being involved outside of our traditional focus areas, this will also have the corollary benefit of increasing our visibility. 

Also this year, the local Member Organizations have been quite busy as well, producing some phenomenal work.  Here are very few examples: From Central we now have the Seismic Design Map Tool, available free of charge on the SEAOC website.  From North we have the Deconstructed Podcast, produced by SEAONC’s Public Outreach Committee. From San Diego we have now a completed safer cities survey, and South is participating in the production of a documentary called Quake Heroes, that will air on several National TV Channels, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake.  The MO executives, Board and Committee Members are deserving of our gratitude and appreciation.

I’m sure Jim Collins would agree that we have the right people on our bus and its powered by great hearts and minds.  And I’m very proud of all of us!

To the younger members of our association, I ask you to reach out to these people, get to know them and learn from them.  They will mentor you, and they will give endlessly.  For we realize that the future of our association and profession will rest on your shoulders.

I am pleased to share with you that the financial condition of the association, is starting to improve. We close this year in the black, the first year in many, thanks to the frugality stance the Board took, your contributions through the minimal dues increase and the success of our conventions that you attend.  This is also made possible by our diligent and astute guardian of the coffers, none other than Brad Lowe.  Thank you Brad for your continuing service. 

I’d like to thank my wife, Elizabeth, and my daughters Lauren, Emilie, Allison and Isabelle, for being so supportive and understanding throughout this year.

I also want to thank the outgoing Board members, Chris Kamp, Jeff Ellis, Michael Braund, Darron Huntingdale and Dick Dreyer.  Your contributions are countless and appreciated. 

And a very special thank you to Diane and Doug Thompson and the convention committee for all their hard work to put on an extremely enjoyable, valuable and successful convention.  

On a personal note, this year has been inspirational and aspirational.  Inspirational because I see how strong we are with the energy of our volunteers and the brain power that we bring to any issue.  We have quality people participating at every level of this organization, and for that we should be very grateful.  And aspirational because it reinforces my belief that in anything you do, you get out what you put into it.  It strengthens my faith in how awesome our profession is, and I am convinced that our future as shapers of society is in great hands!

As I hand over our most venerable association to Joyce Fuss, your incoming President from Central, who I am certain will advance SEAOC with her wisdom and great leadership skills, I’d like to leave you with this final thought, that I am borrowing from Jim Collins’ Book, Good to Great

For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.  Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.

I hope that my short time as SEAOC President mattered.  

Thank you for your trust!  Thank you for allowing me to serve!