Structural engineering as a discipline is becoming increasingly complex. However, there are currently only 10 U.S. states that require any form of specific certification for structural engineers.
According to Jon Schmidt, Associate Structural Engineer and Director of Antiterrorism Services at Burns & McDonnell and Chair of the Editorial Board of STRUCTURE Magazine, “In today’s world of complex structures and 3D modeling, structural engineering is a partnership among architects, contractors and engineering firms. The structural engineer must be able to offer insightful and pragmatic suggestions, and doing that requires strong technical knowledge, depth of experience and problem-solving abilities that have been well-honed over time.”
The fact that there is no central certification program makes it difficult for contractors to determine what specific skill set a structural engineer is bringing to the table. In the 40 states where there is no required certification, engineers performing the tasks of a structural engineer are simply licensed as Professional Engineers. However, contractors are then left to guess whether or not they have the skills to positively impact major projects.
There are those who hope this will eventually change. In 2003 the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) voted to establish an independent entity to dictate a certification process. The Structural Engineering Certification Board (SECB) was thus formed. The SECB hopes to transform its certification into the national standard for certification.
The states that currently require certification include California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska, Illinois and Hawaii. However the requirements from state to state are not, at this point, uniform—a fact that the SECB hopes to remedy.
According to the SECB, their mission is:
- To determine the level of unique and additional education, examination, and experience necessary to perform the science and art of Structural Engineering.
- To provide a common national process for structural engineers to become certified.
- To provide the public and stakeholders with an identification instrument that distinguishes an engineer with those unique and additional qualities necessary to perform structural engineering.
A national certification for structural engineers would be a monumental factor in qualifying expert structural engineering witnesses. Outside of the ten states requiring a certification, litigators would not only have to determine whether an engineer has experience relevant to their case, but also if the engineer even qualifies as a structural engineer.
Until a national licensure for structural engineers is established, perhaps the best way for litigators to find an expert is by using a referral service. An expert witness referral service can help qualify engineers and match them with relevant cases.