On November 14th, I had the opportunity to present the topic of Upcoming Industry Changes for P.E. Approvals on Public Utility Projects at the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers (MDSPE) Annual Conference at the BWI Airport Hilton Hotel Conference Center in Linthicum Heights, MD. This conference brings together a wide range of Professional Engineers and industry experts from all over the region to learn about the latest engineering advancements and industry news.
While I was fortunate enough to have an individual presentation for the group, there were also interesting general sessions that focused on the state of the profession, engineering ethics reviews and presentations on some landmark projects such as the new Maryland Purple Line light rail system and the innovative flood control measures constructed by the city of Frederick, MD. There was even a keynote speaker presentation on the headline-grabbing Volkswagen emissions scandal from a few years back that discussed the fallout for not only the German-based automotive company, but also the engineering community at large.
Our Keynote Speaker, Arvind Thiruvengadam, Ph.D from @WestVirginiaU, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, discusses the details of VW emissions research with attendees at our #MDSPEAnnualConference pic.twitter.com/kI5O78rQmJ
— Maryland Society of Professional Engineers (@engineersinmd) November 14, 2019
As any speaker will tell you, audience participation is key for any conference presentation. Fortunately, I was able to generate audience participation during my presentation and individual discussions with the attendees and the MDSPE leadership afterwards. My topic was one of interest as well as education, as most of the attendees were not completely aware of the changes being undertaken by the states in licensure requirements. This approach and the subsequent state initiatives will impact many of the engineering consulting firms in the industry as well as change a long-standing practice most individual engineers have become accustomed to.
In brief, my presentation outlined the proposed legislation at the State and Federal levels focused on potential changes to the industry exemption statute for design/engineering approvals. These changes will have a direct effect on the role of consulting engineering firms that perform engineering and design work for gas utilities.
This legislation was initiated due to the 2018 Merrimack Valley, MA gas pipeline incident, which caused extensive damage to the Merrimack community, homes and businesses, and resulted in numerous injuries and one fatality. The investigation of the incident, undertaken by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), resulted in several recommendations, one of which focused on the industry licensing exemption statute. This statute allowed for design and engineering to be performed for gas distribution systems without Professional Engineer oversight or approvals.
The NTSB recommendation for uniform elimination of the licensing exemption in all states was based on an inadequate design drawing used to construct a new pipeline facility. Their determination was that such lack of oversight was a primary factor in the system failure which occurred during the project construction.
For the local engineering community attendees, I provided an overview of the current licensing statutes in Maryland for Professional Engineering, including the Maryland industrial exemptions. This was well received as most of the attendees were not aware of the specific provisions, since practicing engineers generally never delve into the exact state code wording. Thus, the educational aspect of my interaction with the group was to provide a “take-away” each person could refer to in their daily work.
My hope is that the presentation I gave and discussions it sparked provided an awareness of this issue to MDSPE members who may be impacted by the licensing changes.
Although there have been no public or private hearings on this issue, it will likely receive continuing attention and review over the next year, with the progress being monitored on behalf of MDSPE. Additional informational updates and potential code changes will be communicated through the MDSPE, with RK&K continuing to be a resource for the Maryland engineering community.
I enjoyed the opportunity to showcase the expertise of RK&K and our awareness and was glad to be able to facilitate a robust audience discussion on the issue. I’m looking forward to supporting and attending this conference again in 2020, and hope I’ll be given the opportunity to provide an update on this very important industry issue.