How is your department managing COVID-19?
City of Livermore shares lessons learned.
Building departments, their staff and leadership, are no strangers to emergency response; they are the silent heroes who ensure a safe built environment for communities year-round. The COVID-19 health pandemic is just one example where upholding building-safety is essential for the functioning of governments and economies across California.
To honor the work of the CALBO membership during this health pandemic, CALBO is highlighting building departments that go beyond the call of duty to ensure public safety and service.
This special series of articles is an effort to connect in the digital realm. We hope that membership will continue to learn from one another and move forward in unity as stay-at-home orders are modified or lifted. As always, thank you for all you do and stay strong!
City of Livermore, Building Division
Brent Smith, Chief Building Official
What actions have your department taken to remain in operation during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders?
The City of Livermore, Building Division has adjusted our day-to-day operations in many ways, and we still find ourselves adjusting based on the revised State and County Health Orders along with the uptick in workflow and customer needs. Currently, we have staff rotating between working remotely and in the office to conform to social distancing requirements for their safety. We are in one of the strictest counties in the Bay Area as far as the Health Orders go, so city offices are not open for ‘walk-in’ customers at this time. Our department is accepting submissions either electronically or by mail. We are doing a lot of outreach and education to help homeowners and contractors understand the new COVID-19 safety guidelines that the County Health Officer developed for construction sites to ensure projects continue to operate safely.
What is your department’s proudest achievement during this transition?
I am proud of our department’s ability to persevere through the obstacles to help residents, business owners, contractors and designers move forward with their projects. Most people had very little time to prepare for the Shelter in Place orders that came from our respective State and County Health Officials and that left many projects in difficult and/or compromising positions. We strive to operate with empathy and deal with each situation on a case-by-case basis because we know that every situation is not exactly the same. We want to allow people to keep moving forward with their projects in a safe and manageable way. People are going through a lot right now, and we do not want to contribute to their stress; rather, we want to help each customer to be safe, healthy and productive.
What actions are your department taking to reopen to the public?
Our department has retained an Industrial Hygienist that has performed a walk-through of all our facilities and observed our operations to develop a ‘Return-to-Work’ Plan as well as a plan for reopening our doors to ‘walk-in’ services. It is very important to re-open our doors to the public once we get approval from County Health Officials, but we are also mindful that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 increases when we do reopen, so we want to develop a plan that helps to limit our high touch activities and allow for adequate social distancing with our customers to protect them as well as our staff. We are determined to make more of our operations electronic to limit the need for person-to-person contact where we can, especially if COVID-19 has a chance to re-emerge in the fall and/or winter, like some experts have suggested.
What advice do you have for fellow building department leadership?
I would highly suggest to have copies of all your most utilized documents, such as permit applications, handouts and similar permit center materials, saved to flash drives. If you lose access to your regular facilities or your network, this ensures accessibility at all times to some of the basic information and documents that customers need. We never know what the emergency is going to be; in 2019, our department had to activate our Emergency Operation Center when our entire city network was taken down by a ransom virus. We learned very quickly that we relied too much on our existing network for backup. I would also suggest moving as many processes to electronic as you can. Our department is in the process of doing that now, and it would have helped had we been further down the road to going ‘paperless.’ These preparations will help your department manage day-to-day operations and needed changes during emergencies, such as COVID-19.
If you have questions about this article or how to share your department’s story, please contact the CALBO Office.