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Face Value: New York Leads the Way with Drone Facade Inspections & FISP

In the bustling urban landscapes that define many modern cities, towering buildings stand as symbols of progress and innovation. However, behind their impressive facades lies a crucial aspect often overlooked - the maintenance and safety of these structures. 

drone flying with New York City in the background
Image Credit: RAND Engineering & Infrastructure

As you might imagine, with its impressive skyline, New York City is ahead of the game when it comes to the safety of tall and supertall buildings. Since 1979, rules have been in place to ensure that all buildings over 6 stories are subject to facade inspections, with the Facade Inspection Safety Programme (FISP) being introduced in 2013. 

Facade inspections play a pivotal role in the construction process but they can also be used to ensure the structural integrity and safety of buildings during their entire lifecycle. Here we look at how New York City is protecting its residents and infrastructure by opening the city skies up to building inspections using drones.

What Are Facade Inspections?

drone flying outside a building

Facade inspections involve a thorough examination of a building's exterior, focusing on its facade, walls, and any other exterior elements. These inspections are essential for identifying any signs of deterioration, damage, or potential hazards that could compromise the safety of the building or the surrounding area.

Traditionally, facade inspections have been carried out using rope access, scaffolding and boom lifts but drones have become a gamer-changer to ensure inspections can be carried out quickly and safely. We’ll look at the role of drones later on. 

Why Facade Inspections Are Important

drone building inspection

  1. Safety: The foremost reason for conducting facade inspections is to ensure the safety of occupants, pedestrians, and neighbouring properties. Detecting and addressing issues promptly can prevent accidents such as falling debris or structural failures.

  2. Compliance: Many cities have regulations mandating regular facade inspections for buildings above a certain height. Compliance with these regulations is essential to avoid fines, legal issues, and, most importantly, to uphold public safety standards.

  3. Preservation: Facade inspections also contribute to the preservation of architectural heritage. By identifying and addressing deterioration early on, these inspections help prolong the lifespan of buildings and maintain their aesthetic appeal.

What is the FISP / Facade Inspection Safety Program?

man inspecting a building in NYC from height
Creator: Max Touhey | Credit: Max Touhey |

FISP, also known as Local Law 11 in New York City, is a regulatory program that mandates facade inspections for buildings taller than six stories. Under FISP, building owners are required to hire a licensed and qualified architect or engineer to conduct periodic inspections of their facades, typically every five years.

The inspections conducted under FISP are comprehensive, involving close scrutiny of facade materials, structural elements, balconies, and appurtenances. The findings are documented in a report submitted to the local authorities, along with any recommended repairs or maintenance work.

FISP plays a crucial role in upholding public safety standards and preventing potential disasters in densely populated urban areas like New York City. By requiring regular inspections and maintenance, FISP helps identify and address structural issues before they escalate into serious safety hazards.

New Rules for Using Drones for Building Inspections

Eric Adams flies a drone
Image Credit: New York Post

New York has a head start on many of the world’s largest cities. Having introduced measures to protect its buildings and residents in the late 1970’s, it’s no surprise that they are leading once again in introducing drone inspections to streamline FISP compliance.

In July 2023, New York City Mayor, Eric Adams introduced new rules which would allow drones to fly within the city for specific tasks, including building inspections, infrastructure inspections and capital project planning. At the press day, Mayor Adams said

Drones are going to allow us to make façade inspections faster and safer, (and) help us inspect and maintain our bridges, tunnels, and critical infrastructure. This is how we ‘Get Stuff Done' for New Yorkers."

Historically, drones had only been permitted for use in emergency situations but these new rules have led to a significant upswing in the interest in drone inspection software in the city.

How Drones Are Transforming FISP Compliance

drone flying over NYC
Image Credit: NYC Dept. of Buildings

The integration of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), into facade inspection workflows has brought about a paradigm shift in the industry. Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras, thermal imaging sensors, and other advanced technologies offer several advantages over traditional inspection methods:

Enhanced Safety: By eliminating the need for personnel to work at heights or in hazardous conditions, drones significantly reduce the risk of accidents and injuries associated with facade inspections. Safety is paramount in any building maintenance endeavour, and drones provide a safer alternative for conducting thorough inspections.

Cost-Efficiency: Traditional facade inspections are expensive - equipment rental, labour and business disruption all add to the cost. In contrast, drones offer a more cost-effective solution, reducing expenses related to manpower and equipment while improving overall efficiency.

Time-Saving: With drones, inspections that once took days or weeks can now be completed in a fraction of the time. Drones can swiftly navigate around buildings, capturing comprehensive imagery and data in a fraction of the time required for manual inspections, thus minimizing disruption to building occupants and operations.

Comprehensive Data Collection: Drones equipped with advanced sensors can capture detailed imagery and data, including high-resolution photographs, thermal scans, and 3D models. This wealth of information allows inspectors to identify potential facade issues with greater accuracy and precision, enabling proactive maintenance and timely interventions.

Accessibility: Drones can access areas of buildings that are difficult or dangerous for human inspectors to reach, such as tall structures, rooftops, and confined spaces. This accessibility ensures that no part of the facade is overlooked during the inspection process, leading to more thorough assessments and improved safety outcomes.

Conclusion: The Future of FISP Inspections

facade inspection drone data
Facade Inspection Using Hammer Missions

New York has always prided itself in being a world leader when it comes to innovation and the decision to encourage drone inspections highlights their commitment to protecting and serving its residents in the most cost-effective and efficient way. As technology continues to advance, the role of drones in FISP compliance is expected to expand further. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are being leveraged to automate data analysis, identify facade defects, and prioritize maintenance tasks. Furthermore, advancements in drone technology, such as longer flight times, increased payload capacities, and improved sensors, will continue to enhance the capabilities and effectiveness of drone-based facade inspections.

Drones are revolutionizing the field of facade inspections, offering a safer, more cost-effective, and efficient solution for FISP compliance. By harnessing the power of drones, building owners, inspectors and regulatory authorities can ensure the safety and integrity of building facades while optimizing maintenance efforts and minimizing risks. 

As New York embraces this transformative technology it's expected that other major cities will follow suit to ensure the safety and structural integrity of their tall and super-tall buildings.

Find Out More About Using Drones for Facade Inspections & FISP

Hammer Missions' YouTube channel is packed full of resources to help you get your drone inspection project off the ground. Watch as Varun takes you through the vertical inspection workflow.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more insights into the world of drone mapping and inspection!

About Hammer Missions

Hammer Missions provides survey-grade drone software solutions to help streamline drone inspections, site surveys, 3D mapping and asset monitoring projects.

Sign up for our free trial or arrange a demo with one of our drone inspection specialists.


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