Being the recipient of an engineering review letter can bring on all kinds of emotions. Working on a large project and receiving a short, clean, minor plan changes required review letter can bring on a feeling of absolute jubilation. Kind of like hitting a hole in one, hitting the lottery or reeling in a 1,000 lb blue marlin or doing all 3 in the same day. Everything is good!

Your client likes you, your boss likes you, heck YOU like you. You start feeling like “wow” I am a pretty damn good engineer and my career is doing great. So you head out for a celebratory lunch with your fellow colleagues and savor the moment. The food tastes good, and you feel great!! AHHHH. Unfortunately, when you get back, you discover that the mailman has visited the office and delivered to you a three-ring bound extended novel review letter on that two-lot subdivision you just gave a great price on to do because it seemed “so easy.”

As you struggle to remove the letter that has been stuffed into a standard envelope like an overstuffed Thanksgiving Day turkey you feel your blood pressure rise. Your absolute jubilation just an hour ago is being eclipsed by anger, frustration and a burning desire to start smashing things to bits. You begin to second guess if you even have one shred of engineering knowledge left inside your pounding skull. Now your brain is trying to quickly determine if you should pick up the phone and call the person that signed the letter ( I wouldn’t do that just yet) or if you have enough money in your budget to address the monumental amount of comments.

Puzzled and frustrated EngineerRINGGGG RINGGG!!! Ah, a phone call, “this will take my mind off this for a second.

WRONG!!! It is your client, and they are VERY angry at how stupid you are, and they are ready to tell you what a crappy engineer you are and how they are not paying for any of these changes because “ you should have known this, that’s why I hired you.” ARGH!!!!!!! Ok, calm down now, relax. This is the typical day in the life of a civil engineer, and the review process is one I have long pondered and internally debated on whether it serves our profession well or serves to drive me personally nuts. Everyone who knows me knows that I know that the world is out to get me. Now, all the Township engineers that are reading this can relax as I do believe the peer review process “generally” serves our profession well. Certainly having a second set of eyes review engineered plans is a good idea. Even a third set of eyes can help.

Now, when there is a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth set of eyes reviewing plans and the comments of the third set of eyes conflict with the sixth set of eyes comments which are in direct conflict with the second set of eyes as well as my eyes, then you can see ( pun intended) how it can become frustrating. And, my personal pet peeve, when any of those sets of eyes do not have a license to practice engineering in the state of Pennsylvania (sorry, your engineer in training certificate doesn’t count) then it really sets me off. No offense new grads and EIT’s but get your PE license and you can review. If you were having open heart surgery would you mind if the licensed surgical cardiologist went to grab a Starbucks while the recent medical school graduate with little to no experience finished sewing up your last few arteries? Yeh, I thought not.

This is where I think our review process needs to change. The only person who should be reviewing licensed engineers work is another licensed engineer. Period, end of story. Sure, graduate engineers and engineers in training can assist in the plan review as it is an excellent way to learn, but at the end of the day, a LICENSED Professional engineer should be doing the review and preparing the letter. Receiving a review letter with comments that make no sense and being forced to go meet with the graduate engineer to debate and argue them is ridiculous. I am not saying this goes on everywhere, but it goes on enough. We should work as a profession to eliminate these situations. Now, drilling down a little deeper. If the road by ordinance is required to be 24 feet wide and I draw it 22 feet wide then a comment should be made that the road is required to be 24 feet wide. Plan gets changed, and we move on. That is a good and helpful comment and helps our profession and helps create good, sound engineered plans. Now, if stormwater management is required (ha, I say “if” but it always is) and our design is done but the engineer would prefer to see the stormwater facility drain to another side of the property to help Mr. Smith have less water in his yard because he calls the Township and complains a lot…well….now we may have a snag.

Puzzled and frustrated Engineer

Not only do we not want to alter our design to reduce one complaint and create another, we further do not want to change ANY design that goes against OUR sound engineering judgment. I say OUR simply because it is OUR design on OUR plan and most importantly OUR liability insurance. These situations come up more often than many realize. There may be 20-30 instances of this per year. We find that the best way to handle this is by giving full credit where credit is due. If we are forced into making a revision we disagree with we prefer to list on our plans the professional engineer requiring such change along with all pertinent contact information. This is simply done to protect ourselves from additional unwanted liability. I will say, that more often than not, we can work through these situations using nothing but sound engineering judgment and common sense. The last area of the review process I think we need to improve upon is the notion of “observing” everything. No, I don’t mean construction observation, that is fully understandable. I am speaking to the relatively new concept of requiring stormwater infiltration tests to be “observed”. Again, we are running into this more often and typically the individual “observing” our tests is not a soils scientist, geologist, professional engineer, graduate engineer or even an engineer at all.

This is a slap in our professional face. It suggests that for some reason there is a need to make sure the professional running the test does not lie or fabricate the results. We need to find a way to improve this review process as it is creating friction in engineering relationships as well as wasting money and driving the cost up unnecessarily. At the very least, if infiltration tests must be “observed” then the observing individual needs to share in the responsibility if the facility does not infiltrate as intended.

NEWSFLASH….NONE of the facilities infiltrate as intended!!!! We test per the guidelines, design per the guidelines, construct per the guidelines, be inspected per the guidelines and yet we find very often that these facilities do not operate as intended and then all focus goes to the design engineer. This is a broken process and it is wasting tremendous amounts of money and needs to be fixed. I mean, what is next, will surveyors need to follow around our surveyors to make sure we don’t fudge boundary calculations and topographic results? Don’t laugh, I have already been asked to have this done. In the end, the peer “review” process is a good idea, and as I previously stated, it often leads to a much better-engineered plan, but the process is not perfect, just ask my doctor!