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Traditional vs. Online Solutions for Disaster Relief

September 15, 2022

Natural disasters can cause significant damage to families, homes, and communities. Building departments are part of the initial disaster response and play a role in rebuilding impacted areas.

Staff are responsible for issuing repair and prohibited occupancy orders, demolition permits, and building permits to rebuild.

Online community development software, like Cloudpermit, helps building departments quickly respond to a natural disaster since staff can:

  • Work together on the same files and add information simultaneously
  • Keep all information, conversations, and photos in the same place
  • Perform inspections in the field on phone, tablet, or laptop
  • Issue repair and prohibited occupancy orders and update citizens
  • Add additional users to receive support from surrounding communities
  • Share information with fire and police departments in real-time
  • Communicate with citizens, architects, and engineers to assess damage
  • Issue demolition permits if a building is deemed unsafe
  • Issue building permits to rebuild structures
  • Update orders after initial response

Traditional and online solutions offer different opportunities for how governments can respond to a disaster. Learn more about some of the key differences between them below.

Work on the Same Files

Traditional Solutions: Paper-based or on-premises systems do not allow for much collaboration in real-time. Staff need to be together in-person for paper-based systems and need to log onto the system from the office to access locally installed programs.

Online Solutions: Online cloud-based software makes it easy to access the same files and work on them at the same time. Building officials can work in the office while inspectors are taking photos in the field, and simultaneously update the same file. This helps building departments respond to the responsibilities that come with a natural disaster faster and with more ease.

Real-Life Examples:

Cloudpermit was great because different users could work in the system at the same time in response to the tornado. While we were creating inspections for properties that needed an order, someone else was inputting information about the actual event. Other systems I’ve used in the past only allow one person to be working on one file at a time."

- Mike Klose, Chief Building Official for the Township of Uxbridge, commented on using Cloudpermit after the Township experienced an EF-2 tornado in May 2022

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Keep Information, Conversations, and Photos in the Same Place

Traditional Solutions: It can be difficult to keep track and share data that keeps changing after a natural disaster, especially with paper.

Online Solutions: Storing information, conversations, and photos in the cloud makes it simpler to access critical data to make informed and timely decisions regardless of location. Staff and other building professionals can remotely access files and work at the office, at home, or in the field.

Real-Life Examples:

We did not have the luxury of scheduling meetings and comparing notes as we needed to hit the ground running right away. I remember building officials not knowing the extent of the damage to a property because it was dark. They could then look at photos taken during the day that were uploaded into Cloudpermit. We worked as a team to piece together the full story of how bad the damage was to some of these buildings."

- Kyle Rainbow, Township of Uxbridge’s Director of Development Services

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Perform Inspections in the Field

Traditional Solutions: Inspectors usually bring a clipboard to a site and write notes down before traveling back to the office to input the notes and update the property owner with the relevant information. During a natural disaster, this extra work steals valuable time that could be used elsewhere and does not allow others to know inspection results as soon as an inspector does.

Online Solutions: It’s simple to start and finish an inspection in the field with online software. Inspectors save time traveling back and forth to the office and can immediately let fellow building professionals know what’s going on a site with information that updates in real-time. They can also add photos to give others a better understanding of a site.

Inspection in the field

Issue Repair and Prohibited Occupancy Orders

Traditional Solutions: When repair and prohibited occupancy orders need to be issued following a natural disaster, building departments usually need to rely on paper, posting orders on what’s left of a structure, and documents that can be emailed back and forth, such as a Microsoft Word document.

Online Solutions: Building departments can use templates within Cloudpermit to quickly issue repair and prohibited occupancy orders to citizens and update them via email. This saves time and allows orders to be issued faster to keep residents safe.

Real-Life Examples:

Our team was in the field determining if homes required any orders to repair or prohibit occupancy. The first step was ensuring which houses or buildings were safe to occupy, and if there were unsafe buildings, we had to prepare an order to prohibit occupancy. It was helpful that Cloudpermit had the right forms and templates set up so we could quickly issue orders to residents."

- Mike Klose, Chief Building Official for the Township of Uxbridge

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Bringing homeowners and residents into the party through Cloudpermit encourages critical communication and it helps everyone deal with the natural disaster together."

- Gerald Moore, RSM Building Consultant’s President, shared the importance of updating citizens with emails after Uxbridge’s tornado

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Receive Support from Other Communities

Traditional Solutions: Natural disasters create times of need for communities and opportunities for others to fill that need. Traditional solutions require other building professionals to be present in the affected area to help and learn a new paper-based or legacy system.

Online Solutions: Online community development software allows helpers to quickly and easily lend a hand. They do not need to be in the affected area, and anyone can be added to the system with Cloudpermit’s unlimited user license. Remote work makes it simple to offer support from anywhere and at any time.

Real-Life Examples:

We did not need to ask for new licenses or wait around for payment to add new users to our system. Instead, we quickly created accounts for everyone who was helping so they could easily add their notes to the team effort."

- Kyle Rainbow, Township of Uxbridge’s Director of Development Services

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Cloudpermit is accessible to anyone, anywhere, so it will be a tremendous help that we can share plan reviews and applications with people all over the province without them ever needing to be in Lytton. I can have a plan review done in Terrace, which is 1000 kilometres away, and receive an immediate result."

- Ron Dickinson, the Village of Lytton’s acting Chief Building Official, shared after adopting Cloudpermit after a fire burnt down 90 percent of the village

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Share Information with Fire and Police Departments

Traditional Solutions: In the event of an emergency, building departments can offer information by looking it up for fire and police departments.

Online Solutions: Fire and police departments can access plans, drawings, and schematics in Cloudpermit to better prepare for an emergency on their way to a site.


When Cloudpermit was implementing it, there was no downtime. They were very helpful and professional. We’ve now added our finance, planning, public utilities and fire departments to the system. It’s a time-saver for all parties involved."

- Debbie Anderson, Chief Building Official for the Municipality of Grey Highlands

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Communicate with Citizens, Architects, and Engineers for Damage Assessment

Traditional Solutions: Usually, government staff need to rely on emails and phone calls to communicate in an emergency. This can make information hard to find and record. It can also make it difficult to reach the right person.

Online Solutions: Online software allows staff to talk with citizens, architects, and engineers in one place. This makes conversations easy to find and record. It also creates opportunities for more staff to respond to a question as it is more collaborative. Staff can communicate, share photos, and voice opinions as a representative of the property owner with the right architects and engineers assessing property damage.

Communicate - message thread

Issue Demolition Permits

Traditional Solutions: Demolition permits are usually issued on paper which can slow down efforts to keep citizens safe.

Online Solutions: In the unfortunate event that a demolition permit is required, building professionals can issue them online to expedite demolition.

Demolition permit

Issue Building Permits to Rebuild Structures

Traditional Solutions: Paper-based, on-premises or legacy systems can cause unnecessary delays in issuing building permits.

Online Solutions: It’s quicker to issue building permits online than paper-based, on-premises or legacy systems. Applications are submitted complete, kept in one place, and easy to find.

Dashboard - kept in one place

Update Orders After Initial Response

Traditional Solutions: It can be time-consuming to update orders after initial responses to a natural disaster with traditional methods. It can be difficult to track, filter, and find the right information.

Online Solutions: It’s easy and quick to update orders online with the right information at one’s fingertips.

Real-Life Examples:

It’s very simple and time-effective to update orders with Cloudpermit. We’re getting engineer reports for structure damage assessments and by working online, I can upload the engineer reports into the inspection we created. If we have a prohibited occupancy order on a building, and the inspector has found that the building could be occupied safely, I can upload the report and satisfy the order."

- Mike Klose, Chief Building Official for the Township of Uxbridge

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Learn more about how Cloudpermit helps local governments prepare and respond to a natural disaster by booking a demo.