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Urban search and rescue engineers’ liability protection awaits governor’s signature to become law

by | Apr 29, 2021


The beginning of hurricane season is right around the corner and as preparations begin, a new Florida law will protect urban search and rescue engineers from potential financial disaster.

Because of Florida’s highly litigious environment, since 2017, Florida has lost 60 percent of its professional engineer structural specialists volunteering during declared disasters.

“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.

“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.

Senate Bill 1060, which passed it final vote yesterday and is on its way to the governor to be signed into law, gives these first responders added protection. Sponsored by Senator Jennifer Bradley (R-District 5) and Representative Kaylee Tuck (R- District 55) this measure limits liability for voluntary engineering or architectural services and exempts engineers, architects, and structures specialists from liability for certain voluntary engineering or architectural services under certain circumstances.

SB 1060 was priority legislation for the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida and the Florida Engineering Society.

“For far too long, Florida’s professional engineers volunteering to help first responders enter and navigate collapsed buildings, have been highly vulnerable to liability lawsuits. Today, Florida lawmakers took steps to help ensure these highly trained structural specialists are protected, and now they can begin regrowing their ranks of volunteers – just in time for the 2021 hurricane season,” said Allen Douglas, Executive Director, Florida Engineering Society and American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida.

The association thanked Bradley and Tuck for sponsoring this legislation, and Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis for his support of this effort.

Twenty-five states already have some form of liability protection in place for these first responders – including New Jersey who rushed to pass similar legislation after Super Storm Sandy when they discovered they had a lack of these professional volunteers.

 

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