June 08, 2016 Practice Points

Selection of Civil Engineering Experts

To find a qualified professional, it’s important to be familiar with how the area’s sub-disciplines are different.

By Randall P. Bernhardt

The Winter 2016 Litigation Management Magazine, a publication of the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance (CLM), recently included an article on the selection of multiple experts in complex fire and explosion claims. The article highlights the importance of retaining different, but complimentary, experts for the varied facets of more complex claims. The identification of the key and complimentary skillsets remains a critical exercise when investigating the cause of complex claims. This article will focus on these competencies and credentials represented by these skillsets in the arena of civil engineering. To find a qualified professional civil engineer, it is important to be familiar with how the sub-disciplines of civil engineering are different and how the different licenses and credentials represent advanced skills and abilities, which can enhance the effectiveness of forensic investigations and in turn the dispute resolution process.  

Civil engineering is a broad discipline that consists of the application of scientific principles to the built environment. Civil engineering includes the sub-disciplines of water resources engineering, civil-site engineering, transportation engineering, construction engineering, structural engineering, and geotechnical engineering. The professional engineering license, the most basic professional credential, represents that the engineer is minimally competent to practice engineering to protect the health and safety of the public. The three Es—education, experience, and examination—are considered the three legs of the stool of licensure for public practice.  

The education for each of the disciplines has a basic common core of mathematics, physics, chemistry, statics, surveying, structural analysis, fluid mechanics, soils mechanics, and mechanics of materials. It is not until the senior year of college that more advanced classes in an area of specialty is selected.  

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has spent considerable time and effort defining the requirements for an individual entering the practice of civil engineering at the professional level. Within their Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century, they readily admit that this Body of Knowledge is not fulfilled at the Bachelor’s degree level in engineering, rather, additional education and experience is required.  

In addition to formal education, there are two other requirements for licensure: 4 years of experience in the area of claimed proficiency and passing two examinations. 

It is during the first four years of experience after graduation that true application to real life situations really starts for the engineer in their area of specialization. This is when the requirements of codes and standards in their specialty are learned and where young engineers start to learn about the procedures and practices necessary to provide safety.  

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination is the initial, pre-professional examination of the licensing process. It is an 8-hour exam that tests the basic knowledge core provided by the formal education. The 8-hour Principles and Practice of Engineering or PE exam is the second of two exams in the licensing process, and it tests the application of the knowledge to real life scenarios. Both tests are made up of only multiple choice questions. 

ASCE has three academies wherein certifications are provided for those demonstrating advanced knowledge and skills in civil engineering: The American Academy of Water Resources Engineers, The Academy of Coastal, Ocean, Port & Navigation Engineers, and the Academy of Geo-Professionals. The requirements for certification in these academies include approval of the education and professional references as well as an oral examination.  

In the area of structural engineering, advanced knowledge and skills are represented by passing the NCEES 16-hour Structural Engineering (SE) Examination in addition to the FE exam. The SE examination consists of two days of tests. Both days of the exam include 40 multiple choice questions in the morning and 3 or 4 essay questions in the afternoon. It is clear that the NCEES 16-hour SE Exam sets a higher bar for structural engineer compared to the 8-hour Principles and Practice exam and therefore represents a more advanced skillset for tackling more complex problems. 

The most qualified engineers have advanced levels of qualifications and proficiency represented by licenses or certifications in a specialty sub-discipline. These licenses and credentials for forensic civil engineers represent the advanced abilities of the engineers that will enhance the effectiveness of forensic investigations.  

Randall P. Bernhardt is a senior consultant at Engineering Systems Inc. in O’Fallon, Missouri.


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