Cleveland to Unwire Building Inspectors

Updated: The city of Cleveland plans to reduce the time involved in issuing building permits and inspections by going wireless.

Next month, in a move designed to reduce the time involved in issuing building permits and inspections from days to minutes, building inspectors in Cleveland will begin filing inspection reports wirelessly from the field.

The project is designed "to demonstrate a referenceable way to increase efficiency," said Maury Blackman, vice president of marketing and business development at Accela Inc., maker of the .Net mobile application being used to collect and store the data.

Those efficiencies could pack a multimillion-dollar payload for the city. The construction industry is one of the contributors to local and regional job growth. Often the process of issuing building permits and conducting and signing off on inspections can take days to weeks, slowing construction and the revenues generated by it.

In Michigan, where state inspectors have been using Accelas software since 2002, the Bureau of Construction Codes and Fire Safety has reduced the time involved in entering data and issuing permits from "days to minutes," said David Viges, director of the Office of Management Services in Michigans Bureau of Construction Codes and Fire Safety (BCCFS).

"Basically, it allows them to input inspection data straight into the system instead of having to fill out paperwork thats keyed by administrative support people back at the office," said Viges. "It will save us administrative support time, and the information will be online instantly in case someone else needs to know details of the inspection."

Because municipal Wi-Fi access is not ubiquitous and because inspectors are often in places such as elevator shafts and basements where signals are not available, agencies will be setting up "watering holes," or hot spots, where inspectors can get connectivity. Clevelands infrastructure already offers free hot spots downtown and around Case Western Reserve University.

"Speeding up construction could have a major ripple effect on the economies of a given jurisdiction," said Blackman.

Accela has partnered with a number of companies to provide municipalities with wireless/WiMax solutions that allow building inspectors to essentially take their workplace on the road, allowing them to file permit requests and inspection reports directly from construction sites. Inspectors can not only submit forms, they can check plans that were previously submitted to ensure the site construction is in line, upload pictures of work in progress and digitally sign off on requests.

/zimages/3/28571.gifIndustry leaders say the U.S. needs municipal Wi-Fi to plug the broadband wireless gap. Click here to read more.

"By minimizing their time returning to the office to perform these functions," said Blackman, "they shrink the processing time involved in issuing permits from 10 days to approximately two days. Thats a demonstrable ROI. The ramifications of basically moving all the processes out in the field and giving them all the information they request at their fingertips is an enormous value-add."

By having real-time access to inspection results, inspectors can respond more quickly to builders inspection requests and questions while they are at the building site. And that has a direct impact on a citys or states ability to speed and promote economic development.

Accela Wireless uses a store-and-forward technology in which the home server periodically polls the client for new information. This allows municipalities that do not have ubiquitous wireless coverage to use a hot-spot model in which the data is forwarded when the client device enters a coverage area or logs in through a private hot-spot provider.

The application includes an offline mode that uses a store-and-forward approach, allowing inspectors to record information that is automatically updated when they enter the range of a wireless node. The software is designed to make the process of applying and issuing permits, scheduling and enforcing inspections, and signing off on projects more efficient.

Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify Accelas partnership position. In addition, Cleveland currently does not have a "digital cities" project.

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