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COVID-19 As A Catalyst To Automate Vacant Facility Checks

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Vacant building checks aren’t something new to school board facility managers. Whether it’s closures for the summer months or Christmas or March breaks, all school boards have some sort of process in place to prove to their insurance company that empty schools are being checked routinely. In addition to fulfilling their insurance company’s reporting requirements, these checks are vital in ensuring that any potential maintenance or vandalism issues are addressed before they escalate into more significant problems.

The onset of the extended school shutdown period in Ontario in response to COVID-19, however, introduced a new set of challenges for completing vacant facility checks. These challenges included a much longer shutdown period, uncertainty around how long the shutdown would last and limits placed on the number of individuals authorized to access buildings. With vacant facility checks required at 52 different locations, one Ontario school board saw the COVID-19 school shutdown as a perfect opportunity to automate their process using ebase Digital Logbooks module.  

Take What’s Working and Multiply It

This particular school board had been using ease to support their facilities management efforts since 2015. The Facilities Management team had already used the Digital Logbooks module with great success to automate a variety of other routine inspection tasks, including: 

  • Filter Change Logs
  • Fire Alarm & Voice Communication System Check
  • Monthly Fire System Inspection Log
  • Monthly Personal Protective Equipment Check
  • Sprinkler Systems & Water Supply Equipment Check
  • Daily and Weekly Water Flushing Checks
  • Hot Work Permit Logs
  • Lock Out/Tag Out Logs
  • Salting and Sanding Logs

Adding vacant facility checks to their roster of automated inspections seemed like a natural next step when COVID-19 closures struck.

Different Perspectives Create Better Solutions

Working closely with their dedicated ebase Client Services Coordinator, the school board’s Custodial team and Facilities team came together to create a new log that would meet all stakeholders’ needs. Now, on required inspection dates, Custodians receive a site-specific checklist that is automatically generated for the schools they are responsible for. The checklist can be completed on a computer, smartphone or tablet. A record of the inspection activity is then stored as a permanent record in the ebase portal. Their Supervisors and Managers can easily log on to ebase remotely to review the completed inspection checklist and address any potential issues accordingly.

Incorporating an Important Initial Step for Safety

To help reduce the risk of bringing COVID-19 into the school, Custodians must complete a COVID-19 self-assessment before they can access the inspection checklist. If their responses generate any possible risks, they are advised based on their answers whether to put themselves into quarantine or contact their Supervisor. If they pass the self-assessment and can continue on with the check, they are reminded to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines related to hand sanitization, gloves and masks. 

A Process That EVERYONE Can Get Behind

Automating their vacant facility inspection process has had positive outcomes for everyone involved at the school board. The Custodians completing the checks like that the new method is simple to use, consistent across locations and sets a very clear expectation of what’s required for each school’s inspection. This is particularly important as Custodians rotate between schools. Supervisors and Managers appreciate being able to stay well informed about their facilities even during periods when they may not be authorized to physically enter the building. The confidence of knowing that reporting data for insurance company requirements is now always accurate and up-to-date is another great advantage.

Keeping The Momentum Going

While automating vacant facility checks was initially done to address the specific challenges related to inspections during COVID-19 school closures, the process is working so well that the school board plans to keep the system in place for the long term. Their Facilities team is already on the lookout for additional routine inspections they can automate by bringing them into the Digital Logbooks module.

When asked if he had any advice for other school boards still using a paper-based system to track their vacant facility checks and other routine inspections, a senior member of the school board Facilities team offered some straight-to-the-point advice, “Make the switch!”

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