Clearing Snowy Streets with Civic Tech

 |   Jeff Friedman, Director of eGovernment Business Development, Microsoft State and Local Government Solutions

Photo via Choose Chicago

The weather outside is frightful, but new civic technology can help cities and towns make it a little less so. As every Chicagoan knows, cities and counties maintain fleets of large snow plows, mountains of salt, and grit dispersing vehicles to be at the ready for the inevitable flurries and blizzards. Typically, city planners augment their own fleet with contract labor, bringing privately owned pick-up trucks, small caterpillar vehicles, and front loaders to assist in the smaller roads, suburban neighborhoods, and other non-emergency routes. These vehicles often clear much more linear mileage than city-owned plows, which are dedicated to critical thoroughfares.

Civic technology aims to make citizens’ daily lives easier and more manageable. It’s not surprising, then, to find a new civicClearing Snowy Streets with Civic Tech technology that leverages the weather data, government activity, and traffic to help solve wintry woes. The newest system from EastBanc Technologies utilizes cloud-based data to allow cities and their contractors to monitor the location and work level/duration of all their fleet vehicles. By taking big data and compressing it into a small-scale scenario, EastBanc can send out this data to the community in a relevant fashion — for example, to track snowplows.

EastBanc has developed an app that is easy to use and can report and visualize what’s happening with their snowplows in real time. This cloud-based contractor monitoring system which runs on Microsoft Azure, can be used on various fronts, but is being tested now for clearing roads in the dead of winter.

Whenever there is a heavy snowfall, the minds of the public immediately turn to the question: when will our street be cleared?  People are concerned, of course, about the condition of emergency snow routes and major highways, but when they can expect their own neighborhood to be plowed is also top of mind. The city and county have clear information on the location, speed, and operating capacity of the vehicles they own, but the current position, direction, operating capability (e.g., amount of salt onboard), is not reported in real time. For the city and county, this means that information that is of vital interest to the public is the one set of information ostensibly unavailable to them, let alone available to the public.

The cost of deploying traditional, real-time GPS tracking systems to every contractor vehicle, removing them following each storm or on an annual basis is prohibitive from both a hardware and integration services perspective. The EastBanc solution solves this problem by leveraging a GPS device already existent in almost every moving vehicle: the smart phone of the driver. Those drivers working under contract must, as a component of the contract, log into an application on their smart phone when they begin plowing. When they conclude plowing, they log out of the application.

For the duration that the contractors work through the storm, the application reports the physical location of the vehicle, speed and direction every three seconds. This information is then aggregated, and provides the city or county with a complete view of their own vehicles, the contractor vehicles, their location, speed, and direction. This data is analyzed in real time and outputted to both a map-based dashboard and to mobile apps that the public can use. The analysis provides clear information on what roads have been cleared, when they were plowed (to accommodate the need for multi-pass plowing during extended and heavy snow events), and when, based upon current conditions, the public could expect a plow to reach them. Furthermore, having the information on ALL plow locations enables response managers to redirect plows to support the passage of emergency vehicles.

Being able to easily add and remove vehicles from the operational picture empowers the city or county to proactively address the realities on the ground as they happen, and provide information to the community to reduce their anxiety and set accurate expectations.

It’s winter in Chicago: it’s going to snow. And we’re picturing EastBanc Technologies tracking and visualizing snow clean-up on a City Hall board near you.

Jeff-FriedmanJeff Friedman is the Director of eGovernment Business Development in the State and Local Government Solutions Group, was most recently the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Previously, Jeff was the Manager of Civic Innovation & Participation in the Mayor’s Office. Jeff led various initiatives to make City government (and urban governance generally) more open, participatory, transparent, entrepreneurial and innovative. Prior, Jeff was Chief of Staff to the Chief Technology Officer in the Division of Technology and before that Deputy Director of Performance Management/Implementation Manager for Philly311 in the Managing Director’s Office. Prior to joining City government, Jeff consulted to state, local and county governments across the nation. Jeff earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Temple University.

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