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Tim Thorson[April 8, 2004]

Case Study: Temecula Utilizes Wireless Technology To Empower Its Mobile Inspection Teams
Accela Wireless Enables Inspectors To Perform Daily Tasks From The Field


Located in southwest Riverside County, in a lush valley just 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the city of Temecula is one of Southern California�s most beautiful new communities. The City is relatively new, having been incorporated in 1989, but has been growing at a rapid pace since its inception; the population of Temecula has increased over 60 percent in the last 13 years.

From the beginning, the City has been a leader in implementing effective e-government solutions to manage our rapid growth. Soon after Temecula was incorporated, we turned to an online solution to manage our permitting activities. The City has used an online approach to automate and track our land management activities for more than 10 years.

While the online solution automated and managed all of the permitting tasks for Temecula, there was room for improvement. Specifically, the City turned its focus to the inspection process.

City council members were receiving calls from citizens who were frustrated with the length of time for completing inspections. City staff was challenged with responding to these calls in a timely fashion because there was often a lag time between inspections being scheduled and the results being entered into the database. The City needed a way to streamline the process and make results available sooner.

As City staff began looking at possible solutions, we became more interested in implementing wireless technology. With the proliferation of new mobile devices like Pocket PCs and Tablet PCs, mobile workforces were becoming increasingly productive in the field and City staff saw a way to apply this success to our jurisdiction. 

�We felt strongly that utilizing wireless technology would improve efficiency for our inspectors,� according to Steve Brown, Code Enforcement Manager.  �If inspectors were equipped with proper technology in the field, they could minimize their travel time to and from the home office and process more inspections per day.�

While the City staff was excited about implementing this new solution, inspectors were more reluctant. They had become accustomed to processing their inspections a certain way and were concerned that the new system would create additional work.

Although there was some hesitation on the part of the inspectors, we were confident that a wireless solution would be the right step in improving our ability to deliver efficient government services to citizens. Additionally, because the City was continuing to grow and had sufficient resources, we felt that this was an opportune time to implement new e-government initiatives.

The City�s fire inspectors are responsible for completing between three and seven inspections per day, each lasting one hour on average. With multiple inspections scattered throughout the City, minimizing travel time was a key issue. Inspectors would spend most of the day traveling to various inspection sites, manually completing the inspections forms. These forms were then returned to the home office and administrative staff would input the results into the permit system. This process often resulted in a delay between when an inspection was performed and when it was updated in the system.

The City wanted a wireless solution that would allow inspectors to signoff and approve inspections from the field. This capability would not only speed up the overall process but the data entry step would be eliminated, meaning greater accuracy and fewer errors in processing.

Inspectors in the Code Enforcement Department wanted the same mobile capabilities as the Fire Department, but faced some unique challenges in their job. While out in the field responding to reported code violations, these inspectors often came across additional violations that had yet to be reported -- abandoned vehicles, illegal signage or lack of landscape maintenance for example. These violations needed to be entered as new cases but inspectors needed a way to view current parcel data or code violation history when creating the new cases. A wireless solution would allow immediate, remote access to the city database, providing code enforcement inspectors a complete view of the case and allowing them to be more proactive in responding to the community�s complaints.

The City of Temecula looked to Accela, a company that develops enterprise software solutions for local and state government, including Web-based, wireless and GIS applications. Using Accela Wireless, an application that works with a city�s existing land management database to provide wireless access capabilities, inspectors can transfer many of their daily tasks from the office to the field.

The project began with City�s Fire Department. Fire inspectors were equipped with Tablet PCs running Accela Wireless. Using the program, inspectors could view their daily inspection schedules, access relevant property data, and sign off on completed inspections. Updates were made to the database in real time so there was no need to return to the office at the end of the day.

�Our ability to leverage mobile technology allows us to do more with our existing resources,� said Jim McBride, Fire Marshal for the City of Temecula. �Our full-time inspectors can do more in the same amount of time and the department is relying less on bringing in alternate inspectors. The end result is better, faster service for our citizens.�

Temecula�s wireless approach also provides its mobile workforce with:

On-line and Off-line Mode: This feature is useful if inspectors are working in areas that have limited wireless communication or none at all. Any updates are stored in the mobile device and uploaded to the main database when a connection is reestablished or when the inspector returns to the office.

New Inspection Creation: This feature allows Code Enforcement inspectors in the field to create new cases as they encounter violations. The agency database can be accessed remotely to view current and historical data about the location, allowing inspectors to create complete and up-to-date cases. The information is automatically updated to the main database so if the home office receives a call about the violation, they can provide the complainant with the most current information.

Everyone in Temecula has benefited from its wireless approach. Inspectors are happy with the new system because it is allowing them to work more efficiently. City staff and Temecula citizens are seeing results in the first few months since implementing wireless inspections. These results are particularly noticeable when processing calls between citizens and city council members, where real time access to data provides greater situational awareness and allows staff to be more proactive in responding to inquiries.

The success of the Fire and Code Enforcement Departments has helped convince other departments in the City that wireless is the way to go. In developing the City budget for next year, both the Building Department and Public Works will be reviewing the results to determine how their departments will implement wireless technology.

Tim Thorson is the Director of Information Systems for the City of Temecula, California.  Temecula is located in Riverside County and is one of Southern California's favorite communities in which to enjoy both personal and corporate quality of life.  For more information about Temecula, visit www.cityoftemecula.org.

Accela develops enterprise software solutions for local and state government, including Web-based, wireless, and GIS applications.  For more information, please visit www.accela.com.

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