City implements snow removal tracking system on website
How many times have you been holed up in your homes following a major snow event wondering when your streets would be cleared?
Now there is no more need for wondering. You can find out instantly by visiting the new link on the city of West Fargo’s website that provides a ‘real time’ account of snow removal activity by city street crews.
The data can be simply accessed at www.westfargond.gov and clicking on the Snowplow link which reveals a map of the city and shows were work by the departments fleet of vehicles is in progress or has been completed. Once you are at the site you click on Winter Weather Operations.There is also a locate feature, where you can type in your address and it will zoom in on the status of your specific location.
The website updates the map every 15 minutes, so the information is always as current as possible. Clicking on the browser will show the vehicles moving; and refreshing will provide the most current state of affairs.
West Fargo City Commissioner Mark Simmons, who holds the Street Department portfolio, has been pushing for the new street tracking program for the past couple of years.
Simmons feels that not only will it provide a value-added service for citizens, it should also cut down the calls commissioners and city departments receive from residents regarding the status of clean-up following a storm.
City crews presently utilize 15 pieces of snow removal equipment to clean the close-to 300 lane miles of roadway in the community. This process usually takes about two days with the limited number of vehicles and personnel that have been maximizing their efforts by rotating three eight-hour shifts a day.
“I thought it would be a good idea to get this process implemented,” Simmons stated. “We get a lot of calls, especially in storms. This will be the perfect opportunity for citizens to go Online and see what the status of work is. To me it is a really good deal, showing complete transparency to our citizens and I hope they like it.”
He also feels it’s an excellent use of pre-planned city dollars. “Where else can you spend money, where citizens can directly see it. It should also be a cost saving venture. We can track how much salt we use when and where. Then we can review and ask ourselves if we put too much down or not enough in some areas and assess if can do something differently to save in any area.”
“I think its an exciting time for the city of West Fargo. Our technology is moving forward and this new link will be a real asset for everyone. I get calls from residents in Eagle Run all the time. This last storm we had three of our plows out there working. Every body thinks they are the last ones to get plowed, but that’s not the case, it only seems that way. Now citizens can look at the portal and see where they stand. Another great part is if we missed something, we can see that right away and do something about it.”
James Anderson, director of informational technology for the city, has been spearheading the implementation the past several months, assisted by Simmons, public works director Barry Johnson, assistant public works director Chris Brungardt, and sewer/water infrastructure manager Bob Olson.
Anderson noted that the only access for now is by computers but there will be a mobile app available in the future.
Interpreting the color codes for the program Anderson said a blue line means the street has been plowed and salted. A dashed line means plowing is in progress and only one side of the street has been cleaned. Red means crews have only plowed and salt has not yet been placed. A yellow line means the streets have only been salted.
Anderson explained that if citizens happen to visit the site a few days before a storm is expected, they will see yellow lines only which means the streets have been pre-treated with salt which is effective for up to 72 hours.
The feature became operational right before Thanksgiving. “We have worked through all the issues from that time to the present and it is working great.” Anderson said.
Olson and Brungardt were involved with the street logistical planning for the feature, with Brungardt also creating all the maps that were supplied to Enterprise Info, a Maryland based-firm awarded the bid for helping create the program. The street department installed the equipment in all the snow vehicles, which includes a two-way radio system, and a computer that uses an air card that talks back to the server, sending the location of the trucks, the speed, and also reads the status of the salt spreader.
When the snow event is complete, a public works official has the ability to go in at the back end and reset the portal in preparation for the next big event.
Cost of the system was $55,000 which included retrofitting the entire fleet with the necessary equipment as well as the first year of maintenance. Funding was included in the 2012 street department budget, Anderson will be overseeing the maintenance on the warranteed system. The ongoing expense will be minimal -- about $10,000 a year -- which will include the cost of new air cards.
Anderson said he is very pleased with and proud of the end result. “We’ve made a pretty big advancement by making it available to the citizens. I think it is a great tool and will get used quite a bit. It has also been an extremely fun process. It required us to sit in the plows and payloaders. It was a great experience working with the city shop and getting this up and running.”
Anderson said he too hopes it will mitigate calls because the system now gives the citizens the ability to check the information for themselves.
Brungardt also touts the system saying it provides a way for the city to be “more responsive to the public and provide a better grasp on how quickly staff is treating the roads and as well as providing information on the condition they are in.”
“From a managenemt standpoint we are able to respond to peoples’ requests and questions” he added, whether they pertain to their streets not being plowed, speeding snow vehicles or accidents created by road conditions. “There are a lot of management tools on our side that we can use that aren’t available to the public portal.”
Brungardt said staff wants to “make sure we don’t miss any roads and to make sure that we are salting and treating road that need to get treated making sure everyone is getting timely service as we are able to provide it. We also see it as a great tool to evaluate how quickly things are getting done, and where to place our assets; and our snowplow drivers see it as a an aid to see what needs to be done and gettomg it done not missing anything in the process.”
The portal also provides valuable information regarding snow pile locations as a result of the clean-up process.
Looking ahead, Brungardt added “I think this will be a growing system and the ability is there to start expanding on it so we can use it in other city departments.”