For Immediate Release
January 16, 2018

DOB Puts Emergency Response and Data Analytics Expertise to Work in Puerto Rico

Buildings Dept.’s Post-Disaster Inspection and Data Experts Helped Recovery Efforts in The Wake of Hurricane Maria

New York, NY – Today, Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler thanked the DOB team who volunteered to assist in disaster recovery operations in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Fourteen DOB employees with specialties in engineering, architecture, construction, plumbing, and elevators were dispatched in early October as part of the larger City contingent to inspect and evaluate the integrity of residences and vital structures such as government buildings, schools, police precincts, and hospitals. In addition, DOB’s GIS analysts worked from our offices in NYC to develop an accurate map of structures on the island that is still being used to provide real-time information to government and recovery workers on the ground.

DOB’s work in Puerto Rico was made possible by implementation of two major strategic initiatives: developing post-disaster and emergency response planning, training, and inspection protocols in response to Superstorm Sandy, and using data analytics to improve agency operations.

“We are very proud of the NYC Buildings Inspection team members who performed an immense amount of work, despite difficult conditions, in the short time they were on scene. Our team examined over 5,000 buildings, and our GIS specialists deployed a mapping tool that is assisting ongoing efforts by officials in Puerto Rico. This impact is the direct result of the hard work everyone at the agency has done to integrate the lessons we learned from Sandy, and use data to improve services. It also speaks to our employees’ personal dedication to the essential work we do,” said Commissioner Chandler.

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the Department of Buildings inspected, evaluated, and helped secure thousands of structures impacted by high winds and floodwaters. Following Sandy, DOB honed and trained regularly on best-practices for responding to large-scale disasters, including delegation of resources, mustering staff, identifying and triaging affected structures, and coordinating interagency efforts. These practices were then integrated into DOB’s departmental policies, response protocols, and additional training for our emergency responders. This training has become a best-in-class example of urban disaster response, and cities such as Los Angeles have modeled their own programs after DOB’s.

DOB inspector prepares to evaluate a building outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Another important component of DOB’s improved disaster response protocols is the mobile post-disaster inspection application deployed by the agency to submit inspection results electronically, improving the efficiency of inspections and providing real-time data that can be used to map and track the status of properties. This off-the-shelf application was put to the test in Puerto Rico. Inspection results were captured with a GPS-enabled smartphone and, when inspectors were able to get a cell signal, uploaded in near real-time to a web-based map and information dashboard that was then shared with officials from the Puerto Rican government. This effort was made possible by our commitment to build the agency’s overall capacity to make better use of digital technology and public data to increase transparency, identify ways to improve services, and provide more opportunities to interact with the agency online.

“DOB’s efforts in Puerto Rico show how our strategic investment in training and technology are paying dividends, and are proof of our commitment to improve our operations continually to better serve those who live in and build our city,” added Commissioner Chandler.   

Additional photos are available upon request. Photos are courtesy of the NYC Department of Buildings.

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