During emergency situations caused by natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or other catastrophic events, engineering firms are often called upon to assist with relief and recovery efforts. These services include ensuring the safety of structures, buildings, infrastructure, piping or other systems. As proven by the relief efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, engineering firm expertise in assessing structural, mechanical, electrical, or other infrastructure is invaluable to federal, state, or local governments that may have limited resources during emergencies.
Unfortunately, engineering firms that volunteered their services or were hired to assist local officials during these events have been sued, often for matters outside their scope of work. For example, several engineering firms that worked at the World Trade Center site following the 9/11 terrorist attacks were sued for air quality problems, despite the fact that the firms were brought in specifically for their structural engineering expertise.
It is crucial that the federal government establish liability protections that provide immunity for professional engineers during a declared emergency so that engineers can quickly provide their services without being deterred by liability concerns. In return, the government would be able to easily mobilize professional engineering resources to adequately evaluate threats to the public’s health and safety.
ACEC supports legislation that would provide liability protections for engineering firms that volunteer or are hired to assist public officials during emergency situations.