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The Problem of Lagging Inspections

Our prediction: Over the next months, a cascade of news stories will focus on the government functions that have been neglected as the pandemic has distracted public sector employees from work that was deemed essential for health and public safety in the recent past.

One of our worries, based on a plethora of similar findings in audits around the country, focuses on building and other safety inspections. This is not just a pandemic-era problem, but logically the distractions caused by the pandemic may worsen an already troublesome area.

In late September, an Oakland audit found only limited progress on mayoral task force reforms that had followed the tragic 2016 Ghost Ship fire in which 36 people were killed during a concert at an illegally converted warehouse. While the audit credited the fire prevention bureau for making progress in identifying at-risk properties, it found inspections were still falling far short. For example, between September 2018 and September 2019, three years after the tragedy, the fire prevention bureau was still inspecting just 26 percent of all facilities required by the state.

Ten days ago, a news article in New Orleans noted that one year after the fatal collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel, the city was still having continued inspector shortages and difficulties in hiring. The Hard Rock tragedy, in which the top floors of the hotel “pancaked” during construction, resulted in three deaths, demotion of the building safety and permits director and accusations against two inspectors for the falsification of inspection reports.

The article cited a recent internal audit that found 82 percent inspection record compliance, but also addressed “some instances where inspectors’ vehicles were not at a site when an inspection supposedly happened… or inspection photos were filed a month after the inspection was supposedly done.”

Another example: A September Dallas audit cited a lack of monitoring of inspections and maintenance service contracts for the city’s elevators. The audit found that the Departments of Aviation, Building Services, and Dallas Water Utilities could not supply evidence that the elevators for which they were responsible were included in inspection and maintenance contracts. The audit warned of an “increased risk that elevators are not safe for public use.”

That month, another Dallas audit found improvements needed in the inspections of both public and private fire hydrants. Problems included an inaccurate count of fire hydrants, inadequate monitoring of repairs and a lack of documentation of inspection spot checks.

These are just the most recent examples we have in our files about inspection issues. In recent years, we’ve spotted audits that detail inspection weaknesses in such cities as Atlanta, Berkeley, Houston, Nashville, and Richmond.


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