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Building Departments Should be Verifying Digital Signatures on Drawings from Architects, Engineers & Surveyors


Forum Coordinator
Oct 16, 2009
In the ever-evolving landscape of the construction and design industry, one pivotal transformation stands out: the migration from traditional wet-sealed drawings to digital signatures on PDF submissions. This transition, while being technologically progressive, also demands a meticulous verification process. The Building Department's role in ensuring the authenticity of these digital signatures from our architects and engineers is of paramount importance, and here's why:
  1. Integrity and Authenticity: Digital signatures inherently possess unique cryptographic identifiers. By the Building Department verifying these signatures, it ensures that the document has not been altered since being signed, safeguarding the document's integrity.
  2. Enhanced Security: Wet-sealed drawings can be tampered with, duplicated, or even lost in transit. Digital signatures, when verified, offer a much higher level of security against unauthorized modifications.
  3. Efficiency and Expediency: The digital age has empowered us with instant transfers and seamless document management systems. With the verification of digital signatures, Building Departments can streamline their approval processes, resulting in quicker project kick-offs.
  4. Protection for All: This verification process isn't just a technicality—it's a shield. It protects the public by ensuring that designs meet regulatory standards, it protects professionals by authenticating their work, and it safeguards municipalities against potential liabilities.
  5. Embracing Modernization, Especially Post-COVID: The pandemic catalyzed the industry's shift into the digital domain. Digital document submissions became more than just convenient; they became essential. Adopting and verifying digital signatures supports this transformative journey, acknowledging the industry's resilience and adaptability.
Digital signatures, in essence, represent the future – a future where processes are both secure and efficient. While wet-seals have served us well in the past, the digital era beckons with promises of enhanced security, traceability, and convenience. The role of Building Departments in this new age isn't just to keep up but to lead with vision and integrity. By actively engaging in the verification of digital signatures, we are championing an age of innovation, security, and unyielding standards.
I have yet to see an AHJ that has a process for this. The practice of architecture and engineering should be leading the way on this. They need to figure it out, because their integrity is at play. I can lift the seals, signatures and dates off 90% of the plans I get. I have personally seen a contractor revise a drawing, lift the seals off the original set and place them on the revision. When I called the architect to point out the ridiculous proposal, he had no idea about it.

Back in the day, document intake was handled pretty well. The required documents were verified as were seals, signatures and dates Now, document intake is largely ignored. Applicants upload in the middle of the night, techs push it through because they have no idea what to do with it (if that process even exists) and plans examiners get an incoherent submittal from multiple submitters, some might be sealed, some might have correct addresses, some might be pencil drawings, and some might not even be a reviewable document because it was corrupted or in a format that is not compatible with the reviewing software.

Sorry, this is a sore spot for me. I spend way too much time playing secretary rather than technical reviewer.