Oakland officials halted an inspection program that sends firefighters to multifamily apartments, restaurants and other commercial buildings to check for safety and fire hazards — because of a change in software.
In a departmentwide email recently, Fire Chief Darin White said there would be a “temporary suspension” of the commercial inspection program, one of three inspection programs overseen by the Fire Department. He told his staff that they might lose access to the software program that helped firefighters track inspections of commercial buildings starting May 1.
The software was blamed following the Ghost Ship fire for not flagging the warehouse for inspection. Officials are in the process of replacing the database with a more reliable tracking system. But the new system isn’t ready yet.
“When it comes to public safety, software or managerial excuses don’t cut it," said a frustrated City Councilman Noel Gallo, who sits on the Public Safety Committee.
For years, the department used a software program called One Step to record what firefighters saw while inspecting buildings. But the database, which has been described as clumsy and difficult to navigate, was missing property records. The system was originally designed based on business licenses. That meant there could be outdated records for buildings, duplicate records or no records at all. The Ghost Ship, for instance, just a block away from a fire station, was never inspected in the years it was used as an art collective and event space because there was no license associated with its operations.
In response to the warehouse disaster, which killed 36 guests at an electronic music show, the city paid $2.7 million to expand a different data management system — Accela — used by the city’s Planning and Building Department. Oakland officials said the Accela system was more thorough and would prevent inspection lapses because properties were logged based on county parcel information.
But migrating the data — and building out the fire module of the new system — is not complete yet.
Deputy Fire Chief Melinda Drayton said the department has purchased a cloud-based version of the One Step program to retain the old data while the system is transitioned, but it’s licensed on fewer computers now. Firefighters need to be trained on that version before the commercial inspection program can be fully restored, she said. Drayton said she didn’t know when that would be.
Right now, Drayton said, the department is training everyone on how to use Accela for vegetation-management inspections as wildfire season in the hills nears. That part of the new database will be rolled out next week.
Also next week, the City Council will vote on a $150,000 contract that will extend One Step up to two more years in order to keep the old inspection records while transitioning between systems.
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