New Accela App Aims to Digitize Fire Prevention Work

The California-based permitting software giant has released its eighth civic application, designed to help fire departments automate aspects of safety and prevention such as permitting and inspection.

by / June 15, 2020

When local governments reflect on 2020, one of their takeaway lessons might be the importance of adaptability. Although gov tech giant Accela had this in mind before agencies from coast to coast had shuttered their offices, the company today announced a new civic application to help fire departments make prevention work more flexible.

Accela’s new SaaS tool for fire prevention is its eighth in a series of civic applications, starting March 2018, all of which aim to replace paper-based processes with digital workflows and automated steps. The company’s news release said the new fire prevention application streamlines aspects of fire plan reviews, inspections and fire permitting, and it includes mobile tools for team inspections and training.

Aaron Williams, Accela’s senior director of solution architecture, said the application is essentially for anything a fire department needs to document, permit or inspect, which in many places includes thousands of occupancies a year. He said normally this would involve reams of printed paper, hand-delivered inspection notices, clipboards, file cabinets and potentially a lot of staff time.

“That used to be a three-week process for them to do a sweep of annuals, and now that three weeks is almost entirely gone, because all you have to do is store it in your system,” Williams said. “This will automatically schedule the inspections on the annual date, and the inspections are routed out to the stations over the Internet through our software and performed on mobile devices. You’re essentially eliminating paper entirely from the process.”

He said the product comes in three iterations: an entry-level “fire essentials” package, which can transition a department off of a paper process in a matter of weeks; a more robust “fire extended” version with more features and dashboards; and a “fire enterprise” version for inventory management and team inspections of higher-occupancy structures like high-rises and stadiums.

Accela has been selling software to expedite fire prevention processes for years, but under the original series of “civic solutions,” now being phased out in favor of new civic applications. Williams said Accela’s original civic platform of solutions was a development tool that gave governments the ability to configure their business processes, but some of those configurations became hard to maintain.

“What happened is, the solutions evolved with agencies internally over time, and they were as good as the last IT department. … The machine got so big and so complicated, you needed more people to maintain it,” he said. “With civic applications, you don’t need that product manager anymore, because Accela has that product manager, focused on building that product, fixing bugs, enhancing features.”

Besides being the next application in the series, Williams said the new fire prevention software was partially inspired by other work with government agencies through COVID-19, asking them what they needed. He said a lot of them had to close their offices that handled permits, so they were looking for mobile, digital alternatives.

“They needed to get online, like, tomorrow, or in the next few days. So we created generic solutions where you could just set the thing up, not very invasive for your staff,” he said. “A bunch of people used it, and we saw the opportunity to do the same thing with fire.”

Accela’s news release corroborated the idea that governments are going mobile: More than 80 percent of the company’s new customers since the pandemic purchased solutions in the cloud, and 66 percent of its entire customer base is in the cloud.

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Andrew Westrope Staff Writer

Andrew Westrope is a staff writer for Government Technology. Before that, he was a reporter and editor at community newspapers for seven years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.


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