Each May, International Building Safety Month offers government officials and developers a chance to turn their shared attention to matters of safety.
Brainchild of the International Code Council (ICC), the public-awareness campaign aims to reinforce the need for modern building codes to create safe and sustainable structures. It also highlights the need for modernized tools to help regulators prepare for and respond to a range of potential safety issues.
For more than two decades, Accela’s solutions have directly spoken to these needs and continue to deliver the features and capabilities governments demand today. Building tools facilitate safe construction by helping agencies optimize their planning and permitting functions by reducing the time it takes to review and issue permits, automating and tracking plan reviews, and enforcing state and local code. Public safety-specific solutions include a cloud-based fire prevention process management solution that modernizes the inspection process for fire departments.
This year’s Building Safety Month comes at an extraordinary moment. COVID-19 has served as a poignant reminder of just how complex and precarious safety issues can be, in society at large and in the built environment.
In response to evolving challenges of this unprecedented time, Accela launched a suite of COVID-19 Response Solutions to help agencies manage high volumes of needed services in a time of crisis. From a building safety perspective, these tools offer support for virtual inspections, which help inspectors minimize in-person visits. They also include mobile capabilities for staff, empowering agencies to enforce building safety remotely in compliance with work from home policies. Accela is also supporting rapid, safe construction of temporary structures including medical facilities and testing centers.
Looking beyond the impacts of COVID-19, Building Safety Month highlights a number of key considerations that are more important now than ever, including disaster preparedness and systems resilience. A digital approach can help government address these issues and other significant building safety concerns.
Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery
In building safety, the threat of natural disasters is ever-present. Government regulators play an integral role in helping developers and business owners prepare for such events and mitigate the risks associated with potential disasters.
Sometimes preparedness comes down to basic block and tackle. It may include things like having a well-oiled, routine fire inspection program, or storing documents digitally so that they can be accessible in rapidly changing circumstances.
Preparedness may also depend on having robust systems in place at the government level.
The City of Oakland, California’s fire department, for example, teamed up with Accela partners TruePoint Solutions and CityGovApp to implement a virtual vegetation inspection system. In just under a year, the department went from printing inspection forms to doing all inspections on a mobile app, empowering fire inspectors to do daily inspections right from the field.
Users can access information such as parcel boundaries on a GIS map, property owner information, and past permits or violations associated with a given address through the Accela API system. Inspections can be done entirely in the field, and if inspectors get interrupted by responding to an emergency, they can pick up where they left off in the app the next day.
This kind of day-to-day efficiency in the inspection process increases preparedness while simultaneously freeing up resources and staff time. In terms of disaster response, post-event assessments are key to success. Digital tools can support this function as well. After Hurricane Katrina and the 2017 hurricanes in Eastern Texas and Florida, Accela provided its Rapid Damage Assessment (RDA) cloud solution as a way to streamline the inspection efforts necessary to get displaced residents back into their homes quickly and safely. The RDA cloud solution includes key elements to launch and sustain a robust disaster response such as support for mobile inspections, bulk inspection-record creation and assignments, a public-facing portal for reporting, and streamlined FEMA relief reporting.
When it comes to recovery, government agencies need to leverage modernized solutions to help businesses resume operations quickly and safely. Accela’s approach to COVID-19 planning offers a model of what that can look like.
Across the country, state, and local government agencies are taking a phased approach to re-opening non-essential businesses and working to determine the criteria for which businesses can open and what rules and precautions will need to be in place to do so safely.
Accela’s Business Re-Opening Management solution includes a powerful workflow engine preconfigured for the processes needed to manage the reopening process. This ensures high productivity and speed for processing large volumes of applications once re-opening gets underway.
Field Inspectors and Code Officers can use Accela tools to leverage mobile devices. They can review the list of scheduled investigations and provide a real-time list of essential businesses permitted to be open. They can also submit supporting documentation and comments directly from the mobile device back to the back-office system, without the need for paper or the manual re-keying of information.
For citizens, the system can publish and update important information relevant for a reopen, and can accept applications, make payments, and capture complaints. Users can access an agency’s site on any device, anywhere and at any time.
Resiliency. Sustainability. Innovation.
Building safety is rooted in the concepts of resiliency, sustainability, and innovation. hese major themes serve as the guiding principles for both developers and government leaders.
Government systems must clearly demonstrate resilience, especially during times of uncertainty. Citizens and business owners need to feel secure in the knowledge that permitting, inspections, and other key building-safety functions can proceed despite the ever-changing environment.
This is where digital service delivery comes to the forefront. With online payments, applications, status checks, and service requests, government can continue to deliver on its key functions, ensuring building safety with minimal interruption. With a single platform, shared data, and transparent decision-making, government can demonstrate the resilience of its economic development capabilities.
Accela’s virtual inspection tools speak to sustainability as well by providing inspectors the tools to do their job in the field rather than commuting to the office and reducing carbon emissions all while supporting mandated social distancing rules.
As a model of civic innovation, digital delivery allows government to be more agile, meeting fluctuating market demand through both boom times and disasters.
Training the Next Generation
Building Safety Month looks not just to the present, but also to the future, with a heavy emphasis on training the next generation of professionals in the field. With a steady influx of new inspectors and regulators into the workforce, it’s possible that new and modern tools will become the expectation and the norm for government agencies.
Accela supports this effort with access to modernized tools including mobile inspections, virtual inspections, and reporting dashboards that incorporate predictive models and enable data-driven decision making.
Governments that embrace a digital approach have an edge when it comes to nurturing future building professionals. Ease of use and enhanced citizen service help change the face of government, making it a more attractive employer and a more inviting business partner. This helps to open doors, shifting perceptions about government’s role in supporting and encouraging both building safety and business growth.
Learn how Accela’s suite of COVID-19 Response Solutions assists local and state governments to build safer communities.