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Howard County, MD Snowplow Tracking

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Howard County’s Bureau of Highways (HIGHWAYS) is responsible for plowing 950 miles of County roads. These roads are divided into over 100 snowplow routes in 3 operational zones. During snow events, HIGHWAYS strives to maintain a high efficiency in road plowing, truck dispatching, and balancing the snowplow progress on routes and zones.

In 1996, the Snow Blizzard disabled the majority of the County for about a week.  Through the lessons learned from the Blizzard, HIGHWAYS understood the necessity for having an effective snowplow tracking system to shorten the time required to complete the road treatment.  Consequently in 1998, HIGHWAYS contracted Enterprise Information Solutions (EnterInfo) to develop an Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) system to improve the efficiency in plow management.  The first version of the system was implemented in 1999.  Since then, HIGHWAYS has utilized the AVL system to supplement its snowplow management operation.  Each winter, the system has provided HIGHWAYS with useful real-time information including vehicle location, vehicle problems, vehicle activities, treatment progress on routes and zones, and the elapsed time since each road was last treated. 

The goal of this project was to implement an AVL tracking system that not only improved Highway’s snowplow productivity, but also to provide the citizens with instant road condition information to increase safety for the travelers.  Soon after the system was functioning on Intranet, the County realized its potential and made the decision to expand the Internet component for public access.  Using the Internet, residents and travelers can obtain road conditions from the county WEB site using a browser.  The snowplow maps, which are updated every 15 minutes during storms, show both the road treatment conditions and the locations of snowplows.

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Since 1999, based on the actual operational needs, Highways has added analytical and reporting functions to the system.  The added capabilities allowed the County to balance the snow operation manpower among snow zones and allow effective utilization of the location data.  The result was optimized use of existing vehicles, reduced number of required snowplow equipment, and improved snowplow management efficiency.

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Basic Functionality

  • GIS Integrated AVL and Snowplow Progress Tracking
  • WEB Module for Public Access
  • Plow and Salting Activities Detection
  • Real-time Friction Index and Live Video
  • Wireless Broadband Mobile Computing
  • Display of Vehicle Trace During Time of Interest
  • Provide List of of Roads Traveled During Time of Interest
  • Report Last Reported Position of Vehicles
  • Display Vehicle Activities and Behaviors During Time of Interest
  • Multiple Concurrent Modems Supported
  • User-friendly Search and Query
  • Color Codes show Road Condition
  • Performance Tracking & Resource Balancing
  • Role Based Application Access
  • Snow Event Definition
  • Snow Event Playback
  • Assignment of Vehicle to Zone

Highways’ supervisors monitor all of the plow locations and plow routes from the operation center using the AVL system.  The system has allowed the deployment of plows to areas of more intense snowfall.  The supervisors have had near real-time notification of plow disabilities.  During the storm events, the 911 fire dispatchers used the system to identify the location of the closest snowplow and coordinated the plows to be diverted to the fire scene or used the system to route the emergency vehicles to the plowed or salted routes.  The Highways can justify the AVL implementation cost if the system can reduce the needed number of trucks by one.  Since the system was implemented, the service inquiry calls to the Highways have been reduced by 80%.  As treatment services are completed quicker without missing treatments on roads, the County is pleased to see the improved road treatment quality and the reduced the labor costs.