How to Address Six Common Challenges of Remote Inspections

Bassem Khalil, CFPS

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May 28, 2020

As we prepare for our “new normal," many construction and fire safety industries have begun to embrace the remote inspection method as the new way of performing site testing and inspection. Even as countries begin to slowly loosen restrictions and re-open the economy, social distancing measures are likely to stay in place for the foreseeable future. Because of this, remote inspection practices have gained popularity. However, it’s important to know the inherent challenges of this new method and how to be well prepared before jumping in and implementing it.

The NFPA is still in the early developmental stages for NFPA 915, the Standard for Remote Inspections, so, if the industry wants to begin employing remote inspections, it’s important for the relevant Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and building owners to have a keen understanding of what is involved. Listed below are the main challenges related to remote inspections and some advice on how to address each:

1. Remote Inspection Methods and Applications

Understanding the amount of time, capital investment, technology and communication tools required is crucial. It’s a common misconception that there needs to be a heavy emphasis on high-tech tools or lead time. For example, using one-on-one live remote inspections, where the building official is communicating with a representative on-site to conduct periodic and straightforward inspections can be a simplified way to conduct a remote inspection. Pre-recorded video on-site during construction works well for complex and new inspections. Direct systems monitoring is an additional method which requires more infrastructure, proper monitoring techniques between building officials and AHJs, but can work well with periodic inspections.

2. Oversight and Accuracy of Remote Inspections

Remote inspection best practices indicate the need for the involvement of Fire Protection Engineers and a registered third party to oversee the remote inspection process. Involving AHJs alleviates their concerns with oversight of critical inspection and testing items. Especially for complex and life safety-related remote inspections, it's necessary to have a third party to oversee the process. This helps to ensure proper flow and accuracy of the whole process while saving AHJs time on managing the process. AHJs should be trained with a strong and clear understanding of the remote inspection scope.

3. Documentation and Insurance

Having a robust in-house quality management system, proper record keeping, clear published policies and remote inspection legal disclaimers should be a priority. Having proper documentation helps to avoid any future legal disputes and liabilities. It’s important that remote inspections are insured or covered under third-party scope.

4. Planning

Proper planning is the key to a successful remote inspection. Using check lists, creating short training videos for those conducting the inspection and understanding the building design are all critical aspects of the planning process. Engaging a Fire Protection Engineer trained in remote inspections in the planning stage will help to ensure its success and efficient execution day-of.

5. Quality Assurance

Remote inspections methods should always achieve the same level of quality and safety – if not higher – than normal inspection methods. Conducting a gap analysis of the inspection and identifying the objectives before the inspection takes place ensures the inspection stays focused, safe and stands up to scrutiny.

6. Uses and Limitations of Remote Inspections

Remote inspections, in their most basic form, can only confirm proper function and operation of systems. In order to confirm proper compliance with design drawings, other methods should be utilized. Using 360o video, virtual reality, 3D scanning, BIM models or digital twin technologies are all good options to further the sophistication of your remote inspections.

Remote inspections are an efficient and powerful tool to help conduct fire and building inspections during COVID-19 and beyond. But there are inherent challenges and in order to ensure the integrity of remote inspection, a close partnership between the building owner (or representative), fire protection engineers and AHJs are critical. Understanding the challenges equips building owners and AHJs with the tools and skills required to ensure overall safety as the economy ramps up again.