October 10, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
Snowstorms can be intense enough in Vanderburgh County, Ind., that the local roadways must be plowed. After a blizzard there left 2 feet of snow, the county developed a GIS Web tool in 2006 for citizens who are antsy to know when to expect snowplow service.
All five of the county's snowplows were outfitted with GPS tracking systems, which enable staff and citizens to track 24/7 the whereabouts of the plows. Each snowplow has a predetermined route, so with the online GIS tool citizens can more accurately guess what time a plow will clear their streets, said Greg Grabner, GIS manager of Vanderburgh County. The county outsources its IT to Mark Rolly Consulting Inc., which Grabner works for.
During heavy snowstorms, some plows drive off the road and become stuck. Oftentimes the county dispatches a rescue crew to find stranded plow drivers.
"In the past, it was hard for these crews to locate the plows that went off the roads," Grabner. The GIS tracking functionality helps the county quickly locate the stranded plows - and their drivers.
The tracker doesn't report in real time. Instead, the back-office Web interface updates the plow drivers' locations every 15 minutes. The citizen-facing Web interface offers updates every half hour during a major storm; it's updated less frequently because the county office can't spare enough bandwidth to feed the snowplow updates as often through its firewall, Grabner explained.
To build the Web tool, Vanderburgh County combined Microsoft SQL Server; ESRI's ArcIMS, a GIS Web delivery tool; Freeance, the Web interface for the citizen-facing portion; and Network Automation's AutoMate software.
Vanderburgh County normally uses its GIS tracking Web site only for snowstorms, but it also proved useful in September 2008 after severe winds hit the area and scattered debris across the county. Twenty-three of the municipality's vehicles also have GPS tracking, including trucks used for gathering debris. After the windstorm, residents were able to track the proximity of the trucks that were clearing debris in their neighborhoods.