By: Meghan Holland
Working out of their company trucks, city inspectors have learned to adapt to the job on the go.
The City of Sioux Falls made the decision in March 2020 for the Inspections (Building Services) Department to transition their inspectors to working from their company trucks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Building Official Butch Warrington said the decision “did what we were hoping it would do” because the city has not had more than one inspector out for COVID-19 at a time. This allows the city to maintain inspections in all trades.
The goal of this transition was to comply with COVID-19 guidelines and limit community contact by reducing the number of people that come into the office, but it also resulted in greater efficiency in day to day operations.
The city defines public innovation as the process of generating and implementing ideas that create value for the community. The innovation of having inspectors work from their trucks allows them to continue their work while improving COVID-19 safety measures as well as boosting efficiency.
The inspections department is considered critical infrastructure, and Warrington said it is important to continue working on inspections in order to keep the economy going.
“Without inspections,” Warrington said, “it would stop all construction within the city limits. Therefore, to keep people working and to provide growth in the economy, one needs to do inspections.”
Four inspections divisions operate within the department, including building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing. Each inspector has access to a company truck, and if the inspector lives within the city, they can take their trucks home. Otherwise, the inspector will come to the office to get their truck and head to their first job.
“One inspector put on about 2,000 less miles last year than the year before,” Warrington said, “so that tells me that we’re saving not only in gasoline and wear and tear on a vehicle, but we’re being more efficient.”
Previously, inspectors would come into the office in the mornings for about an hour to answer phone calls and discuss different jobs with their coworkers before heading out for an inspection. Now, the city can complete more inspections per day by having their inspectors go straight to the job site and start working.
This saves the inspector about 65 hours of driving time. “This also allows for time to answer contractors’ questions on the job site,” Warrington said, “so it gives the chance to educate and build a better relationship with the people in the field.”
Neil King, the building inspection manager, said their biggest concern about working from trucks was that they would lose the team aspect of the job. He worried that inspectors would “lose that relationship and that ability to lean on each other for questioning and growing their own knowledge.”
However, King said the inspectors have still been calling each other and reaching out when they have questions.
“Efficiency is the biggest advantage,” King said.
Inspectors have more freedom in planning their own day. He said they can now schedule lunch breaks or time off for things like dentist appointments whenever they need to and still get all of their work done because there is not an expectation to come into the office at a certain time.
Each inspector covers a specific area of the city.
“They usually get to the job site a lot earlier than they did if they have to come into the office,” Gary Klarenbeek, the mechanical inspection manager, said. “Most of my guys live either in or really close to the area of the city that they do inspections in.”
Klarenbeek said the inspectors already worked on iPads and had the ability to remotely access their desktop in the office, so the team was fairly mobile to begin with.
“I’m lucky with my group because they’re all pretty adaptable,” Klarenbeek said.
He said the IT department has provided some extra support to make sure everything keeps running smoothly, and the inspectors have adapted to the technology quickly.
The city also implemented virtual inspections.
Klarenbeek said while not all inspections can be done virtually, there are times when the inspector can FaceTime a contractor on site and have them walk through the areas they need to inspect.
“Virtual inspections are definitely here to stay,” he said. “That is much more efficient for both us and the contractors.”
The inspections department will maintain some of the new practices even after the COVID-19 pandemic according to Warrington, King and Klarenbeek. Warrington said inspectors will continue working from their trucks.
“Had this happened 20-30 years ago with the technology that was available then, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Klarenbeek said. “The technology has made a huge difference in our ability to work from home and work from the truck.”
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