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CAL FIRE optimizes its 200+ monthly permit reviews, saving time on 60,000+ building inspections

California, USA
Avolve Software

Government Champion

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE)

Cost

Initial:
400 Thousand USD

Project Status

Operational since 2019

More Reading

ProjectDox ePlan

At a Glance

CAL FIRE performs code compliance inspections and plan review for 60,000+ buildings throughout California and as of 2016, permitting was completed using disparate paper files, spreadsheets, and databases. With a new process, they increased transparency, efficiency, and overall data integrity.

Problem Addressed

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, commonly known as CAL FIRE, is one of the largest fire departments in the United States. It is responsible for fire protection and stewardship in State Responsibility Area (SRA) lands, including over 31 million acres of California’s privately-owned wild lands. It also acts as an all-risk fire department that responds to any number of emergency needs in 36 of the state's 58 counties through contracts with local governments.

Within CAL FIRE, the Fire and Life Safety and Fire Engineering and Investigations divisions are responsible for code compliance inspections and planning review for approximately 60,000 buildings throughout California, including State-owned and State-occupied structures, institutions, detention facilities, schools, hospitals, and more. The Fire Engineering division administers licensing programs and performs engineering functions affecting consumer services and product evaluation, approval and listing across 11 extensive statewide programs.

The scope of these responsibilities is exceptional given California’s size, population, and economic activity. Yet as of 2016, OSFM staff performed these fire prevention oversight tasks using paper files, spreadsheets, and databases, taking up an exorbitant amount of staff time.

To save time, CAL FIRE worked with the Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) and created GOVmotus // FIRE, a platform that aggregates OSFM's building and inspection records and manages the permitting process. While this increased the team's efficiency, CAL FIRE was looking to further optimize their operations to meet needs of staff and citizens.

CAL Fire used/is using ProjectDox to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

CAL FIRE leadership sought to integrate electronic plan review for permit approvals. With about 2,600 applications processed a year, automating the plan review process would have a significant positive impact on department staff, customer service, and process efficiency.

The team decided to implement Avolve Software's ProjectDox ePlan platform. The platform allows CAL FIRE to easily markup applications, and verify signatures, streamlining communications with applicants.

CAL FIRE, IBTS, and Avolve all worked together to customize an integrated solution, that prioritized CAL FIRE's need for digital transparency and efficiency. Together, they developed a single sign-on (SSO) approach that allows users to move between GOVmotus//FIRE and ProjectDox, while also passing information back and forth between the two platforms. Once plans are uploaded for review, the system alerts a permit officer. CAL FIRE reviewers can create automated workflows, mark up documents concurrently, overlay document versions to compare changes, and generate reports.

The system can accurately track and attribute their time on permitting, plan review, inspections, and other tasks, allowing CAL FIRE to support the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal), California’s statewide accounting, budget, cash management and procurement IT system. Per FI$Cal requirements, department staff must account for their time by project or building to ensure that the State can bill the appropriate agency. This functionality likewise supports CAL FIRE’s overall approach to transparency and efficiency.

Outcomes

  1. With continued collaboration, CAL FIRE's software is kept up-to-date in order to prevent errors and ensure optimal operating capacity.
  2. CAL FIRE can quickly implement new billing codes, one of which was used for COVID-related work that is necessary for tracking costs for potential grant reimbursement in the future.
  3. The new controls restrict data duplication which helps CAL FIRE standardize information and increase data integrity, increasing the team's confidence and speed in decision-making.
  4. With SSO, all stakeholders can securely log in, increasing transparency, efficiency, and communication between collaborators and statewide departments.
  5. All billing information can be found in one place, allowing CAL FIRE to more accurately bill departments and support the Financial Information System for California (Fi$cal).

Who Should Consider?

Departments looking to digitize and improve their permitting systems in order to increase transparency and reporting capabilities.

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