Professional Roles: Structural Engineers

Elizabeth Tomlinson  |  6/20/2008 9:17:23 PM

Structural engineering is a specialty of civil engineering but can also be a stand-alone degree. Structural engineers provide designs that ensure buildings and other structures are safely supported and able to resist forces against them, such as hurricane winds.

For what specific tasks would you seek the services of someone in this profession?

In the homebuilding field, structural engineers are often consulted by architects to either design appropriate structural systems for the architect’s design or to analyze and approve the structural systems in a design. Structural engineers can be hired independently by the homeowner as well. They often are called upon after natural or man-made disasters to determine which buildings are safe enough to walk through. In addition, they can recommend both short-term and long-term safety measures to shore up the structure of a damaged building. In Louisiana, structural engineering is required for homes that are in designated wind areas above 110 mph and for foundation designs in velocity flood zones (Zones V and VE in the National Flood Insurance Flood Insurance Studies and Flood Insurance Rate Maps). Many communities require a structural engineer with a soils specialty to determine the soils properties as a base for the foundation design.

What licenses and certifications are available in this profession, and what requirements are needed to obtain these?

The Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board issues an Engineering Intern Certificate (EIC) and a Professional Engineer license (PE). Specialty post-licensure certifications can be obtained for those who pursue advanced knowledge and skills in a specialty area. These certifications are issued through specialty area professional organizations that have been accredited by either The American Standards Institute (ANSI) or The Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards (CESB).

Before becoming a licensed professional engineer, the applicant must first obtain an Engineering Intern Certificate. Requirements for applying for the EIC include graduation from an EAC-ABET (Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited engineering program (there are some allowable substitutions, but all require graduation from a four-year program); the recommendation for certification from a licensed professional engineer; and successful passage of the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.

A further four years of experience under a registered engineer (PE), recommendation from five sources, and passage of the Principles and Practice of Engineering Structural I and II exams is required in order to obtain a PE license and practice as a structural engineer.

Licenses must be reviewed every two years, and continuing education credit is needed. A total of 30 professional development hours (PDH) are required to obtain state license renewal.

After being licensed by the state of Louisiana, the structural engineer can apply to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) for a Model Law Structural Engineer (MLSE) designation. At the time of this writing, the requirements for MLSE designation are the same as those for the state of Louisiana professional engineer license. The MLSE is a national designation that recognizes the education, experience and examination of the designee.

Similar to the MLSE designation is certification through the Structural Engineering Certification Board (SECB), a relatively new organization dedicated to standardizing certification nationally and providing identification of structural engineers who have achieved a prescribed level of education, experience and examination in the structural engineering field. Annual recertification requires 15 professional development hours (PDH).

How can the consumer verify that the professional has the license he/she purports to have?

The consumer can visit the Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board Web site at www.lapels.com for a roster of Louisiana-licensed individuals and firms or call the board at 225-925-6291. In addition, they may contact the NCEES at http://www.ncees.org for MLSE holders and the SECB at www.secertboard.org for structural engineers certified through their organization.

What license is required in Louisiana to do what type of work?

An engineer with an EIC can practice under the supervision of a licensed PE; otherwise, a licensed professional engineer is required for structural engineering work. A Louisiana licensed professional engineer may also check, analyze and approve plans of out-of-state licensed engineers or standard design plans prepared by a licensed engineer. A valid Louisiana PE license is required for an engineer to certify single-family residential design plans.

What is the typical pay basis for this profession, and what is the typical cost?

Fees for professional structural engineering services are based on the type and complexity of work to be performed. Ordinarily, a client will pay either a fixed fee or pay for the time and expenses of the engineer to perform the services specified by the client.

How does one become a structural engineer?

To become a structural engineer a person must first graduate from an accredited four-year engineering program. If the engineering degree obtained is not from an accredited program, the program must be approved by the board and the applicant must have a graduate degree from a university which does have an accredited undergraduate program or four years verifiable engineering experience obtained after graduation that is satisfactory to the Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board.

Having met one of these requirements, the applicant must obtain a recommendation from an engineer holding a valid PE license to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Once the applicant has passed this exam, he will receive his Engineer Intern Certification. At this point, he can begin the four years of structural engineering work experience under a licensed PE required to apply to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering Structural I and II exams.

Application for the PE also requires five personal references, three of whom must be licensed and familiar with the engineering work of the applicant. Following the successful completion of the two structural PE exams, the engineer will then receive his Professional Engineer License. PE licenses for all specialty areas of engineering are exactly the same. The engineer may choose to have the "structural engineer" designation added to his seal.

How does a structural engineer who is licensed or certified for providing service in another state get authorization to provide services in Louisiana?

A structural engineer licensed in another state and who does not live or practice in Louisiana may apply to the board for a written temporary permit to practice engineering in Louisiana. The qualifications and requirements of the license this engineer holds in his own state must be at least as high as those in Louisiana. This temporary permit allows for only 120 consecutive days of practice in any one year. There is a fee to obtain this permit.

For a Louisiana license, a professional structural engineer licensed in another state whose qualifications and requirements for licensure are at least as high as those in Louisiana and whose home state accepts Louisiana licenses can apply for licensure as a professional engineer. He must provide documentation of meeting all the Louisiana requirements for PE licensing in order to receive his Louisiana PE license.

All plans, reports, working drawings, specifications and other structural engineering documents prepared by an out-of-state licensed engineer for work in Louisiana who has not received a temporary permit or Louisiana PE license must be approved and certified by a Louisiana licensed professional engineer. The Louisiana structural engineer then assumes responsibility and liability for these documents.

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