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NYC’s Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP): New Avenues for Drone Technology in Facade Surveying

NYC’s Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP): New Avenues for Drone Technology in Facade Surveying

New York City has a long and tragic history of falling debris from deteriorating building facades, striking pedestrians. Each year, loose bricks, concrete, and other building materials fall off buildings, resulting in potentially fatal accidents. In response to these hazards, New York City Council and the Facade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP) implemented Local Law 11, requiring building owners to inspect their facades every five years.

These inspections have historically been conducted using scaffolding. However, emerging drone technology opens new avenues for engineers and architects to conduct preliminary facade surveys. Building owners and architects can now use drones to survey their buildings before kicking off their required hands-on inspections. While physical inspections are still a very important part of the process, drone surveys can give professionals a “map” of their exterior facade, saving money and time in the overall inspection process.

Using its wide range of architectural expertise, Existing Conditions combines a comprehensive array of resources with 25 years of experience to provide clients with accurate drone surveys and architectural drawings. Teams can use this data as a mutual, reliable point of departure for their Facade Inspection & Safety Program initiatives.

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The Danger of Old, Decaying Facades:

Several incidents have occurred where building exterior fragments have fallen onto New York City sidewalks, striking pedestrians. In 1980, a piece of terracotta fell from a building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, hitting a student. As a result, Local Law 10 was implemented, requiring regular building inspections.

These safety hazards have persisted in many ways, and this is because deteriorating buildings are not the only threat to civilians. In 2017, for example, scaffolding collapsed in lower Manhattan, injuring several people. This is not the result of a deteriorating building, but rather outdated surveying and measuring techniques. Countless cases exist of strong winds and other unpredictable forces sending scaffolding flying into workers and civilians on the streets of New York City. Sadly, even since the introduction of Local Law 11, these dangerous events continue to occur.

A New York City Building's Facade (photo courtesy o Nearby Engineers)

 

What is Local Law 11?

 

General:

Local Law 11 mandates that “all buildings in New York City taller than six stories must have their walls inspected and repaired every five years.” In previous revisions of the policy, building inspections were required to be performed using scaffolding. Since then, this has changed to accommodate technologically superior equipment in which Existing Conditions has experience, knowledge, and expertise. According to Akam.com, about 12,500 buildings are subject to Local Law 11.

Specifics:

New iterations of Local Law 11 differentiate between certain safety statuses.

Unsafe Condition Safe Condition (SWARMP)
Conditions requiring repair or maintenance within one year are considered unsafe conditions. Conditions requiring repair or maintenance within five years are considered safe conditions (Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program).

 

Other new implementations of Local Law 11 put pressure on building owners to hire reliable surveying companies for building inspections. “Now Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors (QEWIs) must have seven years of experience, specifically with buildings over six stories to perform the inspection. Additionally, the inspection can no longer be delegated to a tradesperson,” says Andy Leight, AKAM Senior Vice President. Only qualified individuals with education and experience in architecture or engineering can perform inspection tasks under the direct supervision of the QEWI.

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In another instance, the city has mandated a 60-day turnaround rate from the day of inspection to the day that an owner and team file their report. Failing to file the report on time results in a fine. Existing Conditions can provide building owners with a quick turnaround rate. Both large and efficient, the Existing Condition team delivers data back to clients at record speed to avoid any hassles, stress, and confusion. With 25 years of experience in the building surveying industry, the separate sectors of Existing Conditions company work like clockwork, with greased grooves and professional communication.

 

Benefits of Drone Imaging:

Drone imaging for facade surveys would lead to improved safety, less crowded city spaces, quicker inspections, and accurate, 3D drawings using state-of-the-art software. The process of inspecting your building’s facade will be more efficient and thorough if the engineer has a comprehensive, 3D map of your facade before the inspection.

 

Safer for all:

Physical inspections require construction workers to set up scaffolding many stories high, creating a risk of falls and other accidents. By conducting a drone survey of the building before beginning the physical inspection, the team will already have access to accurate drawings of the facade. This will reduce the amount of time, scaffolding, and labor required for the facade inspection, and in turn, make the rest of the process safer and more efficient. Additionally, drone imaging provides a more comprehensive inspection of all potential problems on a facade. A drone can assess a building from all angles, allowing it to spot a crack in the concrete or a loose brick that might not be visible to the naked eye.

 

Sidewalks that aren’t covered with scaffolding:

If you have ever walked in New York City, you have likely walked underneath large, unattractive scaffolding that seems to be set up on every other block. These ugly obstructions clog up the sidewalk and make the city landscape significantly less pleasant. By utilizing drone imaging for facade inspections, the presence and lifespan of these intrusive constructions can be decreased. Inspectors can use the drawings to classify sections of the facade by their condition and plan out their inspection accordingly, limiting the amount of time spent inspecting areas that are clearly in good condition.

 

Turnaround times of less than a week:

If a building is surveyed by a drone before beginning the inspection, the inspector can use the accurate 3D imaging from the survey to identify deteriorating areas on the facade that need more attention. In the same way that a treasure hunt would be difficult and time-consuming without the aid of a map, facade inspections are conducted most efficiently if the inspectors have a detailed understanding of the facade before the inspection. Using drone imaging, facade inspectors can strategically plan to intentionally target certain locations on the facade, which saves time and money.

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High-quality, 3D drawings: 

Using the latest drone hardware and advanced software tools, Existing Conditions can produce accurate, accessible deliverables for your facade surveying needs. Once you have our drawings, you will still need to work with a licensed engineer to inspect your building. However, if the engineer has an accurate survey of the facade, the inspection process will be more cost-effective, efficient, and safe. Furthermore, in the process, we provide you with detailed facade drawings that you can repurpose for any future construction projects or legal endeavors.

3D point cloud data of 101 Federal Street in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

Future of Facade Surveys:

Due to the emergence of new drone technology with highly accurate cameras, (as well as advanced photogrammetry software), drone surveys are emerging as a crucial tool to thoroughly inspect building facades, saving time and money. As more building owners take advantage of the increased efficiency of facade inspections using preliminary drone surveying, more New York City buildings will receive the care they need to repair their facades and improve public safety.  

Other cities have similar policies to New York’s Local Law 11. In 1995, Boston passed an ordinance requiring regular facade inspections for buildings above 70’ feet tall. Philadelphia has several maintenance inspection ordinances requiring periodic inspections. In both of these cities, building owners can leverage the power of drone technology to obtain accurate drawings of their buildings before beginning the inspection process. 

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In the future, it may be possible to conduct the majority of a facade inspection using aerial drone technologies. For now, drones play an increasingly important role in providing architects and engineers with the information they need to make smart decisions based on accurate data.

Existing Conditions brings together the most complete set of resources of any building surveying company, including 25 years of expertise in 3D terrestrial laser scanning and the latest drone technology. If you need a drone survey of your building, or simply want a reliable set of as-built drawings, get started with Existing Conditions today. 

To take a deeper dive and earn continuing education credit, take a look at our webinar on facade surveying.

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