Geologist or Geotechnical Engineer?
An engineering geologist is an earth scientist who has specialized in
the application of geologic principles to civil works. A geotechnical
engineer is a civil engineer who has specialized in the design and
construction aspects of earth materials. Both professions share many
of the same knowledge, skills and abilities. Each field, however, has
particular strengths. Engineering geologists typically have greater
skills in characterization of geologic conditions and processes, and
in evaluation of how processes will be affected or will affect a
specific development activity. Geotechnical engineers will typically
have greater skill in development of site-specific geotechnical
design recommendations and criteria.
geotechnical problems involving site conditions, slope stability and
other common issues can be addressed by either an engineering
geologist or a geotechnical engineer. Some
municipalities specifically require one or the other (or both) if the
work is to be used in applying for certain permits. In selecting a
consultant to advise you on a geotechnical matter, the experience and
expertise of the consultant is more important than their label. In
general, if the main issue is engineering, retain an engineer. And if
the main issue is geology or geologic hazards, retain a geologist. If
either professional identifies the need for input from the other (for
either technical or regulatory reasons) your consultant can advise
you of that need and obtain the required input.
licensed in State of Washington.
geologist or an engineer, anyone practicing in these fields within
the State of Washington must be licensed to practice in the State of
Washington. The licensing acts for both professions have specific
educational and experience requirements, and therefore provide some
assurance to the public that the consultant meets certain
professional standards. In the case of geologists, specialty
certification as an engineering geologist is required for geologists
whose practice is predominately in that field. In the case of
engineers, no similar specialty certification (such as a geotechnical
engineer or geological engineer) is identified in this state. In
either case, the qualifications of the consultant should be evaluated
based on their experience and not solely on their license.
about local experience.
principles are the same everywhere, and many geologic materials and
processes are also nearly as widespread. However, enough differences
occur in the characteristics of geologic materials and processes that
it is important for the professional geologist or engineer to have
substantial experience in the same region (the Puget Sound area, for
instance) as the project or property you are considering.
about experience with similar types of projects.
with site development and related issues, such as potential or actual
landslides, is very different from experience in other areas, such as
mineral or water resources development. It is important that the
professional geologist or engineer have experience with the types of
issues involved in the project or property under consideration.
about educational background.
State licensing requirements establish minimum educational
qualifications, some types of problems are more complex than others
and may be better addressed by those with specific training, such as
postgraduate education or professional development seminars and
workshops. Ask about the consultant's educational background and
training relative to the type of services being requested.
will really do the work?
more than one person within a company will provide services relative
to a project or property. If so, it is useful in selecting a
consultant to know who will actually be performing the fieldwork,
analysis and report writing. And who will be available to attend
meetings, hearings, or other proceedings if necessary.
about reputation and references?
geotechnical consultants are selected based on referrals from others
who have retained them in the past. Such referrals are generally a
very good basis for consultant selection, particularly if the prior
services were similar to those being sought. If you have friends,
acquaintances or neighbors who have retained geotechnical consultants
in the past, you should ask them about their experiences. If you have
narrowed your choice to one or two consultants, it is also reasonable
to ask the consultant for references. However, because it is an
imposition on the previous clients to request such references, it
isn't encouraged for every project.
first contact a prospective consultant, discuss the project or
property in sufficient detail that the consultant has an adequate
basis for developing an appropriate scope of services. For small
projects or property evaluations this can often be accomplished over
the phone, but for larger projects a meeting (preferably at the site)
is advised. If the latter, you should expect to pay the consultant
for the time involved in the site meeting and scope development. The
consultant's fee will be based on the agreed upon scope of services,
so if you are comparing fee estimates from different consultants you
must also compare the different scopes of services proposed.
Sometimes time is of the essense, and so you should get a clear
statement of the amount time required for completion of the
consultant's services. The scope, schedule and estimated fee should
be documented in a written proposal or services agreement. Although
obviously important, you should not base your selection primarily on
the fee estimate. The fees of the geotechnical consultant are
typically a very small part of the total project or property cost,
and it's more important to select the right consultant for the
project than to try to save a few dollars.