Push for Drone Inspections Following Falling Facade Death

Following the death of Upper East Side architect Erica Tishman from falling building facade near Times Square, New York City lawmakers have begun to push for a revamp of New York laws allowing drones to perform building inspections.

On the morning of Tuesday, December 17th, 60-year-old Erica Tishman was fatally struck by falling building facade while walking down the sidewalk on 49th Street and Seventh Avenue.  The building, 729 Seventh Ave, had received numerous violations from the Department of Buildings (DOB) in April, including “damaged terra cotta at areas above [the] 15th floor in several locations, which poses a falling hazard for pedestrians.”  The building owner paid a $1,250 fine, but in late July city inspectors still found no repairs and no sidewalk shed to protect sidewalk passersby from falling objects.  During this period, the company appealed to a judge, getting the violation downgraded from Class 1 to Class 2 – from ‘immediately hazardous’ to not requiring immediate action.


In the week following the accident, the DOB inspectors have been working overtime conducting a city wide sweep of nearly 1,400 facades requiring immediate work.  Among these are similar violations that stretch back more than 10 years, including a Bronx building overlooking a daycare center with violations stretching back to 2008.  The DOB’s database currently shows over 11,000 open building violations across the city.

The nearly 300 city scaffolding businesses have seen business boom following the accident, with many problem sites hiring scaffolding businesses to build protective sheds under damaged or compromised facades.

Along with a spike in scaffolding construction, NYC lawmakers have pushed to revamp a 1948 law that makes it very difficult or impossible to conduct drone inspections in New York City. The law requires that all aircraft take off and land in a location designated for flight by the Port Authority.  This narrows down primarily to the city’s airports, which are often impractical and an impossible range for many drones to fly to and from the site in question in a single trip.

Some bills are already under proposal requiring drone checks for compromised buildings. “It would require Department of Buildings to conduct an initial drone inspection within 48 hours of a 311 complaint or a DOB violation,” said Eric Adams, President of the Brooklyn Borough. Many cities outside of New York have more lax drone/aircraft laws. “Due to an outdated law, drones usage remains complex in New York City and our city has been behind there,” said Zachary Hect of Tech:NYC.

Drones are a less costly way to inspect facades than building expensive scaffolding for inspectors, and have superior capabilities, employing deep zoom, infrared and other sensors to inspect minute visual details and problems like water seepage that wouldn’t be visible or obvious with visible spectrum cameras alone.

Building owners would book drone services through private contractors working with the DOB and NYPD.

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