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2012 marked NABIE’s first excursion west of the Mississippi River for a conference.  It proved to be among the best we’ve done in some years.  Topics covered proved interesting, and attendance was high.  We garnered some local interest in Texas, and even picked up a few new members / potential members.
Conference success for NABIE seems to flow from a number of sources.  Presenter subject matter, particularly if it is unique, can be a draw.  When presenters are well known, they can also help to boost interest and attendance.  Of course attractive locations also come into play.  Yet when all of these things are factored into the analysis at the end, all conferences (at least the ones this Executive Director has been involved with) achieve pretty much the same relatively high score annually.  I’d like to think that’s a reflection of my ability to arrange good presentations.  But I know better.
NABIE conferences are made by its members.  We have a dedicated cadre of conference trekkers who tirelessly make it to nearly every conference.  They bring their camaraderie, their knowledge, and their experience and they share it with new attendees.  In turn, some of those new attendees become regulars and the momentum continues.  If you haven’t attended a conference at all, or at least in awhile, think about coming to the next one.  We are a very small but very unique engineering society with some very talented members.
Quite a number of years ago NABIE conferences were envisioned as a means for members to share “papers” presented on unique topics or situations encountered in the course of our building inspection engineering work.  For at least a few years these presentation papers were published in a journal made available to the membership.
That conference paradigm gradually changed over the years to rely more heavily on outside presenters with learned offerings intended to provide some useful instruction.  To some degree that approach helped with continuing education in less regulated states.  But more importantly the approach took the pressure off the membership to find presenters who were willing to take time from their practices, develop a presentation, and offer it to their peers.  In the years where that transition was occurring it was understandable.  Having been a presenter myself at several of the old style conferences, finding the time in a busy practice to put together a worthwhile address with appropriate back up materials was difficult and produced no revenue.
In recent weeks we have again had some discussions on attempting to renew our “papers” approach.  We have also begun to discuss and perhaps consider broadening our conference approach to include some other entities with similar interests to NABIE’s.  These are all forward thinking and somewhat strategic exercises.  Changes will come, how rapidly they will occur is still under consideration.
In the mean time a brief overview of San Antonio 2012 is given below.
Dan Wittliff, PE (NSPE President-Elect) offered the keynote address.  Dan has some unique views about American professional engineers and what their role will be in an increasingly global engineering world.  Agree or disagree, Dan may well be among the more unique NSPE president’s in recent years. Stay tuned.
A presentation on Construction Defects by Alan Mooney, PE provided an opportunity for listeners to see if this aspect of the professional engineering services market may be one considering.  Construction defects are widespread, and their investigation with an eye toward determining cause can be rewarding engineering work.
The EPA’s Energy Star Program, with Bob Sauchelli its program manager, is an NSPE partner.  As both an NSPE partner program, as well as another avenue for possible engineering work, Bob Sauchelli and his associate provided an excellent overview of the program and software used in it.
Friday’s program concluded with a presentation by Kirk Marchand, PE.  Kirk is a former Southwest Research Institute research engineer and now is a principal in Protection Engineering Consultants.  Kirk’s presentation focused on Blast, Building Envelopes, and Protective Approaches.  While a good part of his presentation considered the effects of glass as a hazard during blast conditions, it was apparent that pre lease or pre purchase evaluations of such conditions in certain buildings can prove informative and cost effective.  Such evaluations may represent an untapped market for some NABIE members.
Saturday began with the Order of the Engineer breakfast.  Traditionally administered by former NABIE President David Carlysle, PE, F.NSPE, two NABIE members were inducted into the order this year.  Russell Strahan, PE and Sam Harris, PE, RA, Esq. took the oath and received their rings.
David then switched hats and became the day’s first presenter with the topic “Evaluation of Tornado Damaged Structures and Improvements in Wind Resistant Construction.”  His presentation was especially well received.
During the next two presentation slots on Saturday Dave Linamen, PE and Doug Matz presented on Inspecting Plumbing Systems in Existing Buildings and HVAC Inspection, respectively.  These are two areas that have received little conference attention in the past and it was hoped that topics outside the realm of structural and civil engineering might offer some insights on another group of building systems common to most all structures.
Saturday’s conference activities concluded with a forum moderated by President Schkeeper on Marketing Building Inspection Engineering Services.  NABIE hopes that this forum can be the impetus for a committee to work on a consideration of marketing such services.  Certainly the forum examined aspects of the work, as well as a consideration of how the economy is impacting the work of many NABIE members.
Sunday’s events included a presentation by Randy Shackelford of Simpson Strong-Tie.  Simpson has developed some interesting off the shelf products that simplify inclusion of shear resistance and lateral load capability in either new construction or retrofits.  As an engineer with Simpson, Randy familiarized the audience with the products and software applicable to selecting specific products.
Doug Matz also presented, this time on marketing.  As both an engineer and a business owner, Doug has a unique perspective on business building.  He has managed to grow his HVAC firm seven fold in just a few short years.  Doug discussed his marketing philosophy and provided some insights into things that worked, and some that did not.  Views of a technical person on the subject of marketing may have direct applicability to NABIE members who, as licensed professional engineers, must also seek to grow their practices.
As was done last year, we will post as many of the presentations on our website as possible in the coming weeks.
*This article had been posted in the Spring 2012 edition of The Examiner.