- During a webinar this week hosted by the International Code Council, building officials from around the country shared their experiences with remote inspections as the coronavirus outbreak forces them to keep doing their jobs while still abiding by social distancing requirements.
- Building inspectors from Ohio, Nevada and Florida found common benefits to performing inspections using inexpensive tools like Facetime, Skype, Google Duo and Microsoft Teams. These include being able to perform inspections earlier in the day since they don't have to physically start their day in the office and then spend time driving to the project. The consensus was that as long as the inspection would be visually-based under normal circumstances, an inspection via video is acceptable.
- The building inspectors on the webinar also encountered some of the same challenges, including getting older inspectors on board with the technology and communicating effectively to contractors and the public the steps they have to take in order to schedule and carry out an inspection.
While some building departments have gone digital with some of their services, it is clear that conversions to technology are lacking in many others. Ryan Colker, vice president of innovation at the ICC, told attendees that, according to a recent survey:
- 40% of building department respondents said they do not have the capability to do electronic plan review.
- 30% do not have the capability to do electronic permitting.
- More than 60% don't have the capability to do remote inspections.
Now that COVID-19 has forced inspectors to adhere to social distancing measures, the ICC found that:
- 93% of departments are still performing inspections.
- 65% have at least some staff transitioned to remote work.
- Of the department still performing in-person inspections, most are either practicing social distancing while their personnel is on the project or are limiting inspections to exteriors only.
- Most departments responded that they are not performing in-person inspections in occupied spaces.
- A significant number of inspections, virtual or traditional, are being performed for minor or basic projects only.
The ICC's recommendations to building departments that are considering embarking on a video inspection program are to first get the all-clear from their governing authorities; engage in clear communication with contractors and other customers; implement online security measures; establish and adhere to record-keeping requirements; determine if your existing software tools can be expanded to accommodate the new video program; and make sure that remote staff member have access to current building codes and standards.
The video inspection process typically involves one contractor representative on site or in the area of inspection — keeping social distancing in mind — who facilitates the inspection. The onsite rep can show the inspector approved plans, take simple measurements and, armed with a flashlight, can make onsite work visible and clear to the inspector on the other end of the connection.
In order to smooth the way with contractors, Rob England, chief building official in Miami County, Ohio, said they had two large contractors test it out so that the department could fix any bugs in the system, technology-related or otherwise, before a general rollout. All of the inspectors, in general, said that the contractors in their jurisdictions reacted positively to video inspections, even though there has been a slight learning curve to overcome.
One thing is clear, according to the webinar — the departments that have either chosen to begin a video inspection program or were forced into it because of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue using this method of inspection after the health crisis is over.
"I think we're going to come up with some really efficient ways of doing business," said Stephen Poposki, a building official in Cape Coral, Florida. "And because people are also very aware of what's going on in the news, they're really more willing to accept change right now, and this is the perfect time to do it."