This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post–Gazette on Wednesday, September 17, 2008.

Laptops to lop days or weeks off city building inspection process

By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post–Gazette

Long–sought portable computers will be in the hands of city building inspectors starting today, cutting days or weeks off the process of getting weeds cut, debris removed and building codes enforced.

By month’s end, 10 code inspectors will replace pen–and–paper technology with laptops loaded with customized software that allows them to receive complaints and file notices and citations from anywhere in the city.

“It’ll give us the technology and the tools to be more responsive and deal with neighborhood quality of life issues in a more timely way,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. He said he’s “not at all pleased” with the state of building code enforcement, and that the low–tech system in the Bureau of Building Inspection is the problem.

Computerization is “a huge sea change for the building inspectors,” said Howard Stern, the city’s director of information systems. “Graffiti, weeds, junk vehicles are now able to be flagged pretty much instantaneously.”

Now, city inspectors get lists of complaints reported through the 311 response line every morning, go out and inspect, then return to the office to file reports and trigger notices to property owners. Typically, it takes four days for a complaint to lead to a notice, and follow–up is dependent on the inspector’s memory.

The $3,746 laptops and $50 air cards, plus software by Plum–based B–Three Solutions, are meant to compress that process to hours.

City 311 operators will type in complaints, which will be transmitted within a minute to inspectors in the field. Inspectors can then go to the properties, fill in forms on the laptops, and forward the notices to be printed and mailed at the bureau’s Downtown office.

The system also will tell inspectors when they should follow up on a property complaint, and could speed the movement of an unaddressed problem into the courts by 15 days.

Mr. Ravenstahl is expected to demonstrate the laptops at a news conference in Bloomfield this morning.