Building department leaders: In Philadelphia pride grew through accreditation
David Perri, P.E., has a big job. As the commissioner for the Philadelphia, Pa., Department of Licenses and Inspections, his staff of more than 400 professionals serves a jurisdiction that covers nearly 150 square miles, with a population of over 1.5 million.
“In 2011, Commissioner Fran Burns challenged us to take assertive ownership of our department’s actions,” said Perri. This mandate led his team to set a goal to become the best building department in the nation. “Becoming accredited by an independent, third-party would put us in a category with other top-level and recognized departments,” Perri added.
Gaining International Accreditation Service (IAS) AC251 accreditation has led to a sense of pride internally and has impacted the department’s image among other agencies. It also helped the team gain greater understanding of the importance of measuring and analyzing performance.
For example, the department needed a process for reviewing, checking and reporting on the internal quality of permitting, plan review and inspections. “Through the development of a quality assurance program, we have a tool to measure the performance of our service, including customer feedback,” said Perri.
By identifying specific needs the department team defined and prioritized additional improvements. As a result, preliminary plan reviews are available for construction projects and three review services exist for applicants seeking answers to design questions before starting a project. The services are provided via email, a preliminary project meeting or a preliminary plan review. Contractors can access a contractor lookup tool to check on the status of their permits and view a resource page that offers quick access to licenses and inspections code, permit and license updates.
The department also developed an inspector training program for new employees that offers a comprehensive orientation involving all internal units and inspection offices. It includes a code training session presented by an International Association for Continuing Education and Training accredited provider. An inspector’s manual was developed for all employees to help them better understand the inspection application.
“Gaining AC251 accreditation has led to a sense of pride internally and has impacted the department’s image among other agencies. It also helped the building department team gain greater understanding of the importance of measuring and analyzing performance.”
— David Perri, P.E., Commissioner, Department of Licenses and Inspections, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
How to begin
Perri recommends that any building department leader that is interested in IAS accreditation should first attend a training session and speak with an IAS representative. “Look closely at the AC251 specification and determine where your department meets the criteria and where there are areas in your department which partially match up,” said Perri. “Get a quantity of those elements and decide how to delegate. The accreditation process is a big elephant, but take a bite at a time and at the end, becoming accredited is worth the time and effort.”
Perri is proud of his team for attaining accreditation. “The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections is the largest accredited building department in the country,” added Perri. “Accreditation is a proof of our department’s commitment to professional achievement, training, continuance of process improvement and customer service. It instills confidence and provides credibility — especially when dealing with difficult situations. Accreditation is acknowledgement of the expertise that our staff provides in making Philadelphia a safer city.”
This article is part of series from the International Accreditation Service (IAS) profiling building departments and third-party service providers accredited by IAS — a non-profit accreditation body and a subsidiary of the International Code Council. Building Department Accreditation and Building Department Third-Party Service Providers Accreditation are two of the programs offered by IAS to provide evidence that departments have met a national accreditation standard and are competent to provide public safety services for their communities. To learn more about these accreditation programs, visit Building Department Accreditation and Building Department Third-Party Service Providers Accreditation.