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By John C. Cronin, Jr. PE
This year’s annual conference at the Fogelman Conference Center of the University of Memphis will long be a memorable one for me as Executive Director.  First, it was my “out of the box” experience at running one of NABIE’s annual events.  Second, it was NABIE’s first attempt at a conference based at a university facility.  And third, the weather was unmerciful in dealing any number of logistic blows.
The overall good news for me was that members found the overall conference fulfilling as indicated by an overall rating of 8.2 on a scale of 10.  NABIE has attempted to assess conference performance in the past, but this time around using a more quantitative approach I thought might help me better translate member satisfaction.  The top vote getters included the Ted Sigman Memorial Lecture (this year presented by our own Bill Coulbourne, PE), Dave Carlysle, PE’s presentation on Client Expectations, and the University of Memphis efforts in the area of earthquake research and building performance (a joint effort from their earthquake research division and their civil engineering department).
Interestingly, a presentation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was less well received, although pertinent to the work of building inspection engineers.  On a personal note, what I did find satisfying about this presentation was the willingness and ability of U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop’s office to help NABIE obtain a ranking presenter from OSHA.
The weather worked against a number of pre-registered attendees who simply could not make it to Tennessee due to the conditions.  OSHA’s presenter was faced with similar issues including becoming separated from his presentation, which had to be emailed to the campus in several pieces.  Bob Clements, our scheduled presenter for a session on marketing, was stranded in Atlanta right up to moments before his scheduled talk.  A rework of the schedule allowed things to proceed, and ultimately NABIE member Dexter Varnell, PE offered to become a pinch hitter.  Dexter traveled back to his home and retrieved a copy of a presentation on Global Warming given to advisors to members of the US House of Representatives.  The presentation proved to be a good fit with remarks having been made by NSPE President Sam Grossman, PE in which he commented on the number of engineers involved in the national governance of some other nations, but how relatively few engineers are similarly engaged here.  The bottom line message I took away from the Global Warming piece was that science and technology applied in any national debate and decision making process needs to be vetted by knowledgeable people.  That means professional engineers must commit to a more active role in the political process.
Dave Carlysle, PE’s consulting practice work with Viking Products caused him to suggest them as possible presenters, and he was able to secure their attendance.  NABIE has had some previous sessions on helical pile devices in the past, but this one was especially unique given the especially high load values that Viking’s products can achieve
The Ted Sigman, PE Memorial Lecture was founded as a tribute to the late NABIE member, Ted Sigman.  Ted served NABIE on many fronts and his passing some years ago resulted in a perpetual memorial in his name.  The lecture has always been configured to provide a unique speaker or topic of particular significance to NABIE members.  NABIE was fortunate this year to not only engage an excellent presenter, but to secure a topic with real meaning for many members.  Bill Coulbourne, PE’s presentation was not only appropriate as a fitting topic for the Memorial Lecture, but NABIE was able to secure recognized continuing education credits for the presentation.  Coastal Region Building Design and the Field Examination of Flood and High Wind Prone Structures embody the work of many of our members.
John Fowler, PE provided an informative session on wood damage occurring from living organisms.  An understanding of how such organisms affect wood is important in arriving at conclusions about the extent of the damage.  Assessing such damage, for me, has always been an interesting experience.  In my home state of New York the signing of Wood Destroying Insect Inspection Forms is expected to be done by state licensed pest control personnel.  However, a full understanding of the nature of the damage often requires professional engineering and building inspection expertise.  The solution often meant that the PE had to also secure the appropriate pest control license in order to sign off on such forms.  John’s presentation should help all those in attendance better understand the nature of such damage.
I am pleased this year’s annual event was generally well received in spite of some serious logistical issues induced by unprecedented winter weather.  Our NABIE members are the heart of making the annual meeting a meaningful experience.  As we move toward next year’s event please feel free to contact me with comments and ideas – and even offers of presentations – so that we can continue satisfying the needs of professional engineers and architects in the building inspection engineering profession.
*This article had been posted in the Spring 2010 edition of The Examiner.