In the early part of the 20th century, California structural engineers were challenged with the lack of adequate interchange of technical information and difficulties in contractual relations with other design professionals. R.C. Buell, a structural engineer with the Portland Cement Association, is credited with having introduced northern California to the concept of a forum-type organization to cope with such problems in 1930. The idea was well received, and SEAONC began operations that year with 39 charter members.
In its infancy, SEAONC was primarily a club that was focused on gathering to discuss points of mutual interest for its members. But the statewide nature of the problems facing the profession necessitated a statewide effort on the part of structural engineers. A similar organization had been formed in southern California, and in 1932 the two groups joined to form the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC). Regional groups in central California and San Diego developed in later years and eventually joined the state organization.
The SEAONC emblem was designed in 1948 by Jack Y. Long. It was inspired by the newly revealed design of the St. Louis Arch.
Early collective action by this club led to the general adoption in 1948 of the concept that structural engineering fees should be based on the total cost of a building, rather than just the structural costs.
Throughout its history SEAONC has assisted local, State and Federal agencies on a number of matters pertaining to Structural Engineering. As SEAONC evolved, its members and officers took an increasingly active role in legislative matters affecting the profession. Several California legislative acts are of particular importance:
- Registration of engineers has been a major concern of SEAONC over the years. Engineering registration began in Wyoming in 1907 and expanded rapidly across the country. The Professional Registration Act was passed in 1929 and registration of Civil Engineers in California was introduced. In 1931 the title of Structural Engineer was created, and in 1933 surveying was included as part of the civil engineer registration exam. The Association continues to review current laws, regulations and their implementation to assure protection for the public and profession against improper use of engineering and to assure proper continuing education and development of the profession.
- The Field Act closely followed the aftershocks of the Long Beach Earthquake in 1933. Alarmed over the extensive damage caused by the earthquake and heeding the counsel of the Structural Engineers Associations of Northern and Southern California, the Legislature enacted stringent design regulations for public schools. The law originally only governed the construction of new buildings, but was extended to all school buildings by the Garrison Act in 1969.
- Under the 1933 Civil Service Act, only State-employed engineers and architects could work on State projects. SEAONC mounted a vigorous campaign in opposition, contending not only that the Act cut unfairly into the pool of work available for private enterprise consultants, but the Act also deprived the State of the chance to select from among the most talented and efficient design professionals. The Association eventually persuaded members of the Legislature to reconsider, and the Act was repealed in 1949.
Since the 1940's members have maintained direct involvement in the development of building code provisions, especially those dealing in earthquake-resistant design, by reviewing, writing and updating the Uniform Building Code, the San Francisco and Los Angeles Building Codes and various industry-sponsored code recommendations.
When it became evident in the late 1940's that current code provisions for seismic design were inadequate, the Structural Engineers Association of California undertook the responsibility to complete a set of earthquake design recommendations. A decade of work, combining talents from all sections of SEAOC, resulted in the Recommended Lateral Force Requirements published in 1959. That document, known as the "Blue Book", has been continually updated by the Seismology Committee, with major re-evaluations after each significant earthquake: 1964 Prince William Sound, 1971 San Fernando, 1983 Coalinga, 1987 Whittier Narrows, 1989 Loma Prieta, 1994 Northridge, and 1995 Kobe. The Recommendations have been regularly adopted into the Uniform Building Code and are the basis of most seismic code provisions in the United States. They are also the internationally recognized standards for earthquake design.
The 1971 San Fernando Valley Earthquake triggered new developments in earthquake preparedness:
- The California Hospital Act was passed soon after the earthquake, providing for more stringent building standards, plan checking, and inspection for hospitals under the direction of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), with the intent of improving patient protection and maintaining building/facility function after a disaster.
- The Applied Technology Council (ATC) was established under the auspices of SEAOC in October 1971, to assist in the application of current technological developments to structural engineering practice. The primary focus: to translate research into usable design information.
- The Alquist-Priolo Studies Zone Act was passed in 1972, regulating building development within "special study zones: along known active faults in California".
In the early 1940's the Association had worked closely with civil defense authorities in determining the adequacy of air raid shelters and disaster relief plans. Now, fifty years later, SEAONC members assist the Office of Emergency Services and local building departments in coping with earthquake disasters, by organizing volunteer emergency building inspectors and establishing uniform criteria for post earthquake inspections.
The value of SEAONC's participation in the development of earthquake design has been proven by the successful behavior of buildings designed since passage of the Field Act.
From a 39-member "club" in 1930, the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California has grown to a diverse organization numbering more than 1700 in 1998, dedicated to the development of Structural Engineering as a profession, science and art in addition to being an advocate for public safety.
In 1948, the SEAONC Board of Directors instructed the then "Public Relations Committee" to develop a suitable emblem for the Association. The committee formed a subcommittee called the "Emblem Committee", with instructions to initiate a design competition within the membership. A grand prize of $50 was offered to the winning entry.
The winning design was submitted by Jack Y. Long, said to be one of SEAONC's most energetic members at the time. His idea was inspired by the newly revealed design of the St. Louis Arch and has proven to be a lasting one.
The emblem was subsequently adopted by other Structural Engineering Associations in California and has since been adopted by Associations in a number of other states. The SEAONC emblem is currently in use on all official publications and correspondence.