The alert went out in the form of a meeting announcement in October 1988 to 30 structural engineering firms in the Consulting Engineering Council of Metropolitan Washington (CEC-MW). This meeting was necessary to address the dismal state of our business environment which had deteriorated during the decade of the 1980’s. Due to our lack of attention to basic business practices, structural engineers were being denied responsibilities in the design process, often working without written contracts, and working for reduced fees due to client bid shopping practices. The industry as a whole was suffering from an increasing volume of legal claims and professional liability insurance rates which skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. Many engineers were practicing without coverage. Something had to be done to address and reverse these trends. The writing was on the wall, and only structural engineers, themselves, could turn the tide.
Major topics of discussion addressed at the early meetings included: Inter-professional Contracts and Separate Contracts directly with owners; Educating Clients to Recommended Structural Engineering Services required to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of the public; Quality of Service; Equitable Fee structure; Office Practices; and Professional Liability Insurance. The future success of the organization was immediately evident by the overwhelming turnout at each meeting. Committees were formed to address business and professional issues we faced on a daily basis. Basic guidelines for contracts, developing man-hour breakdowns for fee structures, risk identification and management, insurance premiums and limiting liability, project and office quality management, and client education were presented to members at monthly dinner programs.
Paralleling the growth of the Structural Engineers Association (SEA) was the growth of the national Council of American Structural Engineers (CASE) within the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) plus the Structural Engineers Risk Management Council (SERMC) founded by ACEC and the insurance carrier DPIC. The essence of the CASE movement was reflected in SEA which elected to become a chapter of CASE, giving birth to SEA/CASE-MW. This close association has allowed SEA/CASE-MW to contribute valuable material to national efforts for improving structural engineering business practices. Just this year, members voted to simplify our name to SEA-MW.
As we approach our 30th year, this history demonstrates the determination and commitment of the Structural Engineering community to improving our business and service to the Washington metropolitan area. Members of SEA-MW are quick to relate the success of our efforts to educating ourselves in sound business practices, reducing risk, and improving our service. One of the main keys to our success is effective communication among ourselves and with our clients.