When hail the size of golf balls hammers down from the sky, local governments — especially building divisions — can’t dodge the impact.
That was the case in Jefferson County, Colo., located along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Last summer, a massive hailstorm caused thousands of dollars in damage, followed by a flood of requests to the county from residents who wanted permits for roof and siding repairs.
In years prior, such a storm would’ve been a nightmare for those tasked with approving building repairs. The Building Safety Division would’ve hired temporary workers to help out in the office. Inspectors would’ve had to come into the office to access permit requests, find addresses and write the information down on paper. The inspections would’ve gone on for weeks.
“We didn’t feel that was fair,” said Ed Peck, project manager with the Jefferson County Division of Building Safety. “We’re doing everything possible to scramble and keep up with a next-day inspection.”
Earlier in 2009, the county acquired a mobile tool that allows inspectors and other remote staff to access information on permits, licenses, properties and more, without having to return to the office. Using Amanda Mobile, part of a larger business performance platform called Amanda, field inspectors now have full access to key data: blueprints, site plans, GPS apps, work schedules and other information.
In hard financial times, mobile technology has become a popular choice for agencies trying to improve workflow management and boost efficiency — city councilors now bring iPads to council meetings, and emergency operations centers send alerts to smartphones.
“Clients are looking for applications to help them deliver more services,” said Nitish Mukhi, vice president of business development with CSDC Systems, the makers of Amanda. “One of our clients took online payments and removed the credit card vendor out of the process. That one act has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue to the city.”
Last year, the storms in Jefferson County led to nearly 7,500 reroofing permit requests worth $1.1 million in fees. With the ability to access or file reports in the field, local government workers had an advantage they never had before — the ability to respond to requests without returning to the office and to share to-do lists with other inspectors to get jobs done faster. In last summer’s storm, fewer than two dozen inspectors managed a workload four times greater than the previous year.
Peck said Jefferson County paid $356,000 for the Amanda platform, which includes Amanda Mobile. Ten local divisions, such as the fire districts and health department, have been using various products from the vendor for the last 10 years.
The county also seized the opportunity to connect residents to the Amanda Public Portal, which helps citizens avoid driving to the government office and standing in line to file permit and inspection requests. Now they can file and access these requests online, which Peck said improves customer service, helps transparency and also reduces the “ungodly amount of phone calls” for the front-office staff.
“The timing was perfect for us, if there is such a thing as perfect timing for a crisis,” Peck said. “With these products, it allowed us to keep our heads above water.”