Each time a tragedy strikes which involves the collapse of buildings teams of professionals, known as Structures Specialists (StS), are needed to volunteer their expertise to assist first responders by identifying safe points of entry and safe navigation of those structures. However, since 2017, the number of professional engineers volunteering their services has decreased by 60 percent due to Florida’s overly litigious environment.
“In the event of a large-scale disaster such as a hurricane hitting a large coastal metropolitan area like Tampa Bay, Miami, Orlando or Jacksonville, requests for Urban Search and Rescue Structures Specialist will immediately exceed Florida’s availability,” warned Allen Douglas, Executive Director, Florida Engineering Society and American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida.
A bill passed unanimously today by the Florida Senate Rules Committee hopes to correct that.
Senate Bill 1060, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Bradley (R-District 5), limits liability for voluntary engineering or architectural services. It exempts engineers, architects, and structures specialists from liability for certain voluntary engineering or architectural services under certain circumstances.
“Urban Search and Rescue is a dangerous undertaking that’s conducted in buildings that are fully or partially collapsed. First responders are exposed to greater dangers when they don’t have an engineer helping them determine the least hazardous means of entry into a collapsed building. They shouldn’t be placed in greater dangers than they already are,” said Andrew Schrader, PE, StS1, Founder, Recon Response Engineering in St. Petersburg.
“Hurricane seasons are becoming more intense and storms are more frequent. It’s important for Florida to be proactive and ensure that we have the Urban Search and Rescue Structures Specialists needed to aid and protect first responders entering collapsed structures in search of life. It’s just common sense,” said Jonathan W. Milton, PE, StS2, President, Milton Engineering Consultants in Stuart.
Twenty-five states already have some form of liability protection in place – including New Jersey who rushed to pass similar legislation after Super Storm Sandy when they discovered they had a lack of these professional volunteers.
“Search & Rescue Teams must have every resource to aid Floridians during disasters. That’s why I support SB 1060 and HB 891 that gives engineers the protections needed to help first responders save lives,” said Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis.
The American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida and Florida Engineering Society applaud the Florida Senate Rules Committee for advancing SB 1060, which it calls an important urban search and rescue bill.
It is hoped that with the passage of SB 1060 Florida can take proactive steps to help ensure these volunteers are protected, and that Florida can once again grow the ranks of these highly important urban search and rescue personnel.
“The services provided by engineers during a disaster are critical to our recovery efforts and to ensuring the safety of first responders and the public,” said Bradley. “I’m pleased to sponsor legislation that protects these professionals under the Good Samaritan Law.”