Friday, June 2, 2023

Planning Balances Safety and Simplicity with Virtual Inspections

In March 2020, life as a whole seemed to shut down. While some simply picked up their laptop and continued their jobs in yoga pants on their couch, others set to rethink their work in the age of mask wearing and social distancing.

Before City of Southlake employees transitioned to working from home, the building inspectors of the Planning and Development Services Department met virtually to come up with a plan to continue to provide building inspection services in a safe manner throughout the stay at home order.

“Our inspectors stepped up to the challenge and developed a plan to allow building inspections services to continue in a manner that was safe for the both customer and inspector, while still continuing to maintain our high standards of excellence,” Senior Director of Planning and Development Services Ken Baker said. “They proactively created and implemented a plan and worked together as a team to go above and beyond for our residents and businesses during a very challenging time. The building inspectors continued providing the inspection service uninterrupted throughout this very challenging time and I’m very proud to have each and every one of them as part of the Planning and Development Services team.”

So how did the City plan to continue inspections and maintain newly implemented social distancing guidelines?

“Inspections weren’t going to stop. We came up with solutions so that we could keep residents and ourselves safe and maintain our quality services,” Building Inspector Ernie Aguilar said. “Homeowners appreciated our efforts.”

A virtual process was created for certain types of inspections such as those for water heaters, roofs and HVAC systems. The virtual inspections process allows photos and videos to be submitted to the City in lieu of an inspector physically visiting a home or site to perform the inspection. This results in eliminating the social interaction between the customer and inspector. Other benefits of the virtual inspection is now the homeowner or contractor does not have to stay at home or on the site and wait to meet the inspector. This virtual process also allows the City to improve efficiency and save money by reducing travel time and cost.

The City also created safety protocols for on-site building inspections. This included making sure the building inspector was equipped and wore appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when conducting inspections and that all homeowners and contractors social distanced from the inspector while on site or in the home.

“Our residents and contractors have been very understanding and respectful of the safety and social distancing protocols we have put in place and for that we are very appreciative,” Baker said.

“Any time we had concerns, they were addressed. The City made sure we had the tools to get our jobs done,” Building Inspector Charlie Wright said. “We always had access to PPE and COVID-19 testing if we needed it.”

Access to masks and protective gear was imperative since inspectors would still be required to enter multiple homes and businesses per day for more complex inspections.

“Our supervisors made themselves available anytime we needed them. I felt like this was a team effort,” Aguilar said.

Through our City of Southlake values of Teamwork, Innovation and Commitment to Excellence, our building inspectors were able to achieve the high standards we set for ourselves as employees and meet the expectations of those who live, work and play in Southlake.

“I’ve only worked for the City of Southlake for four months, and it’s evident why there is very little turnover,” Wright said. “Southlake writes the manual every day for what working for a City should be.”

Learn more about the City of Southlake inspection process here.