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Lagging Inspections: Will We Never Learn?

We are, as readers of the B&G Report know, regular users of performance audits. In so doing, we're sometimes reminded about the Greek myth of Sisyphus, the founder and king of Ephyra who was punished for escaping death by spending eternity rolling a boulder up a hill and then watching it roll down again.


How does this connect to the problems we see in performance audits? The answer is that many of the issues we observe cropping up in one place -- and potentially resolved there -- appear again and again in other reports. Case in point: the difficulty in keeping up with building inspections and the sometimes tragic consequences that ensue,



This is on our minds today because of an in-depth investigation conducted by the Sacramento Bee about a lethal fire that occurred in early September. The September 2nd Mill Fire in sparsely populated Siskiyou County, California, appeared to begin in wooden warehouse Shed 17, although that hasn’t yet been confirmed. It spread across a six-mile area, killing two women and destroying “nearly 100 houses,” according to the Bee.


The lengthy article about the newspaper’s investigation cited a lack of oversight of warehouse fire safety and noted that government officials couldn’t provide records to indicate the warehouse in question had a functioning sprinkler system.


In this rural area of northern California no local governments had the responsibility for inspecting the warehouse. State fire inspection requirements did not appear to cover warehouse inspection or oversight either.


Every situation is different, but we have seen a lot of similarities in the post-disaster discussions of a lethal fire. We’ve covered this topic in the past and wrote about it a year ago, in a blog post we titled, “The Problem of Lagging Inspections.” .


Too often, the lack of inspections – even when they are required – come down to shortages in funding and staff. When they draw public attention an investigation is done, and -- with remarkable frequency -- blame is placed on the absence of sufficient inspections.


In a perfect world, one community would learn from the lessons of another and that boulder would stay at the top of the hill. But, sadly, that's not the case. And so, despite the tragedy in California, we expect to read the same story again and again in other places.


Are we growing pessimistic? No. But maybe just a tad realistic.


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