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Public Roads - September/October 2016

September/October 2016
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Internet Watch

Taking the BIRM Mobile

by Steve Moler

When engineers inspect bridges, they rely on a 2,000-page manual for guidance. The Bridge Inspector’s Reference Manual (FHWA NHI 12-049) (BIRM) typically is contained in two three-ring binders and explains just about everything a bridge inspector needs to know about implementation of the national bridge inspection standards, the duties of a bridge inspection team, basic bridge terminology, and how to perform inspections. However, bridge inspectors hesitate to lug the manual into the field because of its bulkiness, preferring to leave the two binders in their offices or vehicles.

But what if inspectors could fit the entire BIRM into their pockets? The Federal Highway Administration’s National Highway Institute (NHI) has made that a reality.

Making Inspections Easier

To make the BIRM more accessible and easier to use, FHWA developed a free mobile app of the complete manual that bridge inspectors can access on their smartphones or tablets. The BIRM app includes all the content from the physical manual, including information on improved bridge inspection techniques, culverts, fracture-critical members, cable-stayed bridges, prestressed segmental bridges, moveable bridges, underwater inspections, and nondestructive evaluations and critical findings.

“NHI strives to develop reference material in a format that can be useful to practitioners,” says Louisa Ward, project manager for the BIRM app and a training program manager at NHI. “Today’s professionals demand just-in-time learning, and the BIRM app fills that need for the bridge inspection community.”

Douglas A. Blades, a structural engineer with FHWA’s Office of Bridges and Structures and the technical lead for the BIRM app project, adds, “With the importance of our inspection program growing as our bridges continue to age, there is a greater need than ever to have inspections that are both high quality and consistent among inspection teams. By optimizing the Bridge Inspector’s Reference Manual for mobile devices, inspection teams can routinely use the manual to ensure we have the best inspections possible.”

Access on the Go

The app works on Apple® devices, and FHWA is working to make it compatible with other platforms. The app optimizes the screen size so that information is displayed full size, regardless of whether the user accesses it on a smartphone or a tablet. The app meets all Americans with Disabilities Act Section 508 requirements, such as providing captioning for all videos and alternate text for images.

The app maintains the manual’s organization by chapters and topics, and bridge inspectors can download either the entire manual or only the specific content they need. Once downloaded, all app content is stored locally on the user’s mobile device so that the app can be used in remote locations where Internet connections are limited or unavailable.


With a mobile device and the BIRM app, bridge inspectors like this one have the complete reference manual at their fingertips while performing inspections in the field.


Users can perform both keyword and full-text searches for quick access to the answers they need. The easy-to-navigate glossary enables you to simply type a letter into a search text box, and the app directs you to the corresponding glossary section. The app also offers a bookmark capability that can be used anywhere within the content using the embedded e-reader. Inspectors can generate notes and save them in the app, then share them with other team members via email.

Because the visual content of the manual is critical, the developers designed pop-up pictures and figures that enable users to tap on any image and enlarge it to fit the screen they are using.

“The world of bridge inspection will never be the same thanks to the BIRM app,” says Patrick C. Park II, P.E., leader of the bridge inspection team for the West Virginia Department of Transportation. “It’s so convenient and easy to use compared to the old bulky hardcopy binders and laptop versions. Now, with the app and an iPad, I have the entire manual at my fingertips while standing at a bridge. With this app, the BIRM now becomes a powerful field reference.”

For more information and a link to the App Store, visit

Steve Moler is a communications specialist with FHWA’s Office of Public Affairs.