Leveraging Technology to Get the Job Done: Remote Video Inspections

City staff member conducting a remote video inspectionAs the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Certainly, that was the case for the City’s Building and Housing Department last March, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down its inspection system almost overnight.

“At the time, every City inspection was done in-person by one of our licensed inspectors,” explains Kyle Krewson, director of the Building and Housing Department. “But keeping a six-foot distance when performing inspections of occupied homes during this crisis was going to be a task that was not only challenging, but also awkward for everyone.”

So, Krewson decided to move forward with an idea that he and his team had been exploring before the crisis: remote video inspections (or RVI).

“We had been brainstorming about how we could make RVI work, but this forced the issue,” says Krewson. “In a week, we had it up and running.”

In anticipation of Governor DeWine’s official Stay at Home Order, the City rolled out the RVI program on March 19. At that time, Shaker Heights was only the third municipality in Ohio to offer the service. To date, City inspectors have performed hundreds of RVIs. “Our contractors and realtors love it, as do our inspectors,” says Krewson. “It’s been incredibly successful.”

So successful, in fact, that the City will continue to offer the RVI program after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. “It’s allowed our inspectors to be more productive and provides much more flexibility for contractors, since they can often get an inspection on the spot without having to wait 24-48 hours for an in-person appointment,” says Krewson.

21st Century Solution

Here’s how the RVI process works: a contractor (or resident or realtor) downloads the video conferencing app Google Duo to a mobile device and ensures that a reliable data or WiFi connection is available. At the appointed time, the City’s inspector calls the device from a computer using a web-based version of Duo and walks the participant through the inspection.

“It’s pretty much the same as using Zoom or FaceTime,” says Krewson. “For those who need help, generally we can walk them through getting it set up on their phones in just a few minutes.”

Participants are advised to have everything they’ll need to perform the inspection ready before the call. This includes, depending on on the type of inspection, items like ladders, GFCI (circuit breakers) testers, tape measures, and flashlights so inspectors can adequately see and assess the completed work.

The system works best for inspections of smaller projects, but during the COVID-19 crisis, the department has used RVI to handle bigger projects too. “We did one inspection with 160 violations,” notes Krewson.

Meanwhile, as the City’s operations return to normal, Krewson hopes to explore new ways to use RVI, including to expedite the point-of-sale process for eligible properties and to regularly provide contractors with access to same-day inspections of smaller projects.

With an eye toward innovation and customer service, Krewson is pleased to be offering this new inspection option. “RVI is really allowing us to be more responsive to our clients’ needs,” says Krewson.

Learn more at shakeronline.com/remote-video

Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2020.