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2.24.21 – SSI – Shane Clary

Formed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the NFPA technical committee on remote video inspections looks to have proposals for a new standard submitted by June.

In 2019, the National Fire Protection Association formed a new technical committee on remote video inspections. This committee was formed prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time it was formed, the use of this technology was intended to be used as a method to provide a remote inspection of small projects.

The initial concept for a new standard by the NFPA was first addressed in a white paper authored by the Building Code Development Committee (BCDC). This is not a technical committee but is charged with examining existing needs and emerging issues within the code and enforcement community and then to provide recommendations to the NFPA on possible needs that could be addressed. One of these was remote video inspections, or RVI.

The white paper, Conducting Remote Video Inspections, was released in August 2018. The paper itself was written and accepted by the BCDC by a majority vote in December 2016. The chair of the BCDC when the white paper was written was Jim Muir, chief building official for Clark County, Wash.

In addition to the white paper, a presentation on RVI was made during the NFPA annual meeting in 2017. In this presentation, Muir reviewed the history and technology that Clark County was using, starting in 2013. This started as a response to the Great Recession during the first years of this century in which, due to reduced budgets, the county had fewer inspectors in the field. As the economy began to pick up steam, Muir was looking for ways in which he could expand the reach of his existing staff.

The county developed Sherlook video inspections, which was intended for use with small projects that a homeowner might take on, such as footings for deck post, small steps and rails or insulation. The means of the inspection was through either Skype or Facetime.

There was not a large number of AHJs at that time willing to start to use this technology as they expressed the views that inspections could altered and were not necessarily reliable. A true inspection had to be conducted onsite.

Concurrent to these developments, Bassem Gamil Khail, from the Abu Dhabi Civil Defense, submitted a request to the NFPA Standards Council for a new standard to establish protocols and practices for the use of remote inspections of existing buildings, buildings under construction and building systems for code compliance. This request was first acted upon during the council’s April 2018 meeting.

Khail stated in his application that new UAE Fire and Life Safety Code had a proposed chapter on remote commissioning. The initial scope as presented by Khail would be for the video recording of the testing and commissioning of a new system to support the written documentation, and to expedite that final inspection by reducing the time required for an AHJ to be onsite to witness the inspection of each system. This is a larger scope than what was being offered through the Sherlook program.

During the time from the April 2018 council meeting until its December 2018 meeting, the proposed project was published for public review. Four comments were received, three being in favor and one opposed. Concurrently, the proposed project scope was sent to the technical committee on electrical inspections for their comments on the requirement for such a document or project.

This was done to decide if such requirements be placed within one of the documents that this technical committee has oversite on, a new document that this technical committee would develop, or if a new technical committee be formed. The results were mixed, with four members of the technical committee in favor of such a document but three being not in favor. Three committee members did not respond.

The Council at its December 2018 meeting voted to start a new technical committee, with the following project scope:

This Committee shall be responsible for establishing requirements for the performance and use of remote methodologies, systems and components (including digital video, digital images, digital audio, among others) whether live or submitted as an electronic file for subsequent review to conduct remote inspections of buildings, structures, systems (e.g. electrical, HVAC, fire protection, etc.) and premises including underground spaces and aerial areas. Requirements for collection, custody and maintenance of the data available from remote inspections shall also be the responsibility of this Technical Committee.  

During the April 2019 council meeting, the initial members of the new technical committee on remote inspections was named. The document that this committee will be responsible for is NFPA 915, Standard for Remote Testing. Muir was named as chair.

Since the formation of the committee its members have met three times. The last meeting in May 2020 was conducted virtually. The initial draft document has been released for public review and comment, with proposals due by June 1, 2021.

In next month’s column, I will review the proposed standard and how upon adoption it could be used for inspections that an AHJ may conduct. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a number of jurisdictions I work with start to use various forms of remote testing for both prewire and finals.

A standard is required as at this time each AHJ using this as a means for performing an inspection has different requirements for how the remote inspection is to be conducted.