Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

This mantra comes from the United States Marine Corps. It applies to any obstacle and is what saves lives and ensures victory on the battlefield. We can all learn from this approach.

2020 has been the kind of year that has forced us all to look at the way we conduct business. We’ve each adapted and improvised, and some have overcome better than others. This is a very instructional time. There are so many things that we can learn from each other on how to do what we do every day better. As building officials, we should be ready to share what has or hasn’t worked, and we should never be afraid to ask our colleagues for help along the way. We’re all in the same BOAT.  Please let me share an example.

Carrollton got a jump start on improving processes, thanks to a rough 2019. We changed our permitting software in the spring, moving from a system that had been in place since 1989. Even though the software had been updated along the way, the parent company had been sold a number of times and we were not getting the support required to keep the system working. So we took 30 years of data and moved it all to a new system. It was scary, but we managed to pull it off. In the process, we added an online portal that allows customers to apply for and pay for permits and upload drawings entirely online. We finally adapted to the present.

However, right when we moved our regular customers over, announced the system to the public, and started taking online applications (which was a huge leap forward), our city was the victim of a cyber-attack. Every computer in the city was rendered useless, along with phones and voicemail systems.  Everything had to be rebuilt. Everything. Two months of data had to be completely reconstructed, because it was completely gone. A year’s worth of documents and images related to permits had to be rebuilt and re-indexed. For three months, we rebuilt systems, improvised in every way to make things work, and still managed to process permits and inspections every day, doing our best to minimize the impact on the public.

Then, 2020 happened. COVID hit; we closed city hall and sent everyone home. By this time, our staff was already used to finding a way to make things work, so they improvised wherever needed and kept working. Whether it was inspectors never entering their office but working entirely from their vehicles, or plan reviewers holding meetings online, or permit technicians using a drop-box outside the office, staff found a way to make it work and minimize exposure to customers and themselves.

I could not be more proud of a team than I am of our team. They found new ways to discuss permit comments and drawings with customers, to make inspections in occupied homes without risking contact with the homeowners, and to take applications and submitted documents. Most learned how to work from home, either using their own equipment or borrowing from city hall, even after offices re-opened.

Statistics haven’t really changed for most of you reading this. Construction remains relatively constant throughout the state, with a few notable exceptions.  Cities across the state are finding new ways to do things. BOAT has found new ways to offer services and training. So has ICC.  Everyone is adapting to “the new normal.” There will absolutely be a need to continue to adapt, as none of us can be sure of what’s around the next corner. Share what your team has done.

The Marines have got it right. It takes improvising and adapting. But, we can. And, we should. Only then, will we overcome.

Brett King, CBO

Vice President, BOAT

Building Official, City of Carrolton



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