Up until last month, conversation around Remote Video Inspections (RVI) was limited and sporadic. Discussions were mainly about work on our developing standard or with AHJs looking to drive efficiency in their often resource-strapped departments.
The current pandemic, its associated push to remote work, and the requirement of social distancing have combined to thrust RVIs into the forefront of AHJ minds everywhere.
It's rare for a day to go by without at least one story about a jurisdiction implementing RVIs showing up in my news alerts, and recently one of those stories was about a great partner of NFPA, Tim Mikloiche. Tim is the Building Official/Supervisor of Inspections in West Hartford, CT and the article is about his creation and implementation of an RVI program in these challenging times—and he did it in four days!
He was able to accomplish this using his professional network and several NFPA resources, including the NFPA white paper, Conducting Video Inspections, and the proposed NFPA 915, Standard on Remote Inspections. Tim, like many others I have heard from, had been skeptical about the idea of RVIs, believing that they “would reduce the quality of an inspection in an effort to move projects forward.” Current conditions are leaving AHJs no choice but to provide new solutions, like the RVI program in West Hartford. A few weeks into this new way of working, Tim is less concerned than he once was, because quality has not decreased. He said, “We have set good guidelines and are working on checklists that will help ensure the quality.” Some of these solutions may become permanent—in West Hartford they are collecting and using data to help inform decisions moving forward and to help them adjust how they are implementing the RVI service.
Here are the 12 key points that I have heard in talking with and listening to AHJs about the opportunity to utilize RVIs in their area:
Make sure to stay on top of and follow all CDC guidance related to COVID-19.
Focus on making people feel comfortable and safe. These are unprecedented times for everyone, and you never know what external factors people are dealing with. For your staff, this might mean allowing them to voice their concerns for consideration before any changes are put into effect. For your customers, it might mean thinking about them as people first and customers second.
Every jurisdiction is different. Different sizes, different budgets, different technology. But there is a lot to be learned from one another right now. Small jurisdictions can learn from large jurisdictions on the opposite coast and vice versa.
Be comfortable knowing that the choices you make now may be temporary as you bridge this unexpected gap in your processes. If you spend too much time on every detail, you might not get anything out the door. When you want to mobilize quickly, you need to simplify.
Executing a process now doesn't mean you're committing to it long term. You're creating a program to meet current conditions—it may or may not fit how you work typically or how you want to work in the future.
Don't start skipping steps in your processes; doing so will likely be detrimental in the long run. Make sure to document everything you're doing and what the outcomes are. This will help you to adjust now and inform policies and processes well into the future.
Many places allow inspections using multiple technologies/platforms. I have heard of people using FaceTime, Facebook Live, Google Duo, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
Make sure your employees and your customers are well trained in and understand the process you'll be using.
Remote Video Inspections do not mean easier inspections—the expectation is that the pass/fail rate of in-person inspections and RVIs should be the same.
Take your time when doing the remote inspection. It's ok to ask someone to slow down, to show a different angle, to measure again, to pan out, or anything else you need them to do to ensure you're comfortable with what you're seeing.
RVIs tend to take longer than in-person inspections but are expected to deliver efficiency, primarily in a reduction in the time and associated costs of traveling to and from job sites. (This is a good one to track some data on, if you can.)
Questions will come up, many of them relating to managing required physical artifacts when working remotely (e.g., raised seals on paperwork, stickers that need to be affixed, etc.), and that's fine. You'll need a temporary solution in these cases, such as verifying things by phone or video. Just make sure that everyone knows the process.
Things are changing, and we all need to adapt and be flexible. But that doesn't mean trading on fire and life safety. To help, NFPA recently produced a fact sheet that provides guidance on how to conduct an RVI.
When it comes to RVIs, what are you doing? What questions do you have? How can NFPA help?
NFPA has relevant resources designed to keep you informed about important fire, building, and life safety guidance during this pandemic period. NFPA codes and standards are also available for free online access. The International Code Council (ICC) is offering information on health and safety considerations for code officials during COVID-19 too.