Henrico County Employees Use GIS to Improve Snow Plow Operations

Henrico County is a large county in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with a population of nearly 350,000 people and covering over 245 square miles. Different regions of the county often experience different weather events at the same time such as rain in the east and snow in the west. As a result, public works crews are responsible for reacting in real time to the changing status of 167 subdivision routes, ranging from snow and ice removal, flooding and standing water, downed trees and power lines, and malfunctioning traffic lights.

As the manager of the county’s GIS office, Jason Collins often meets with colleagues throughout the county to discuss problems that might be rectified by GIS (geographic information system). Three years ago, he met with Steve Clark, Drainage Manager for the county, who described problems documenting when, by whom, and the type of work performed on subdivision roads. Clark described difficulties deploying crews quickly in response to citizen complaints, especially when provided with incomplete or inaccurate location information. Collins and Clark agreed that GIS might be a good way to track complaints and prevent duplication of responses. As well, they brainstormed how GIS could provide shift foremen with information about changing roadway conditions so they could make real-time adjustments in plowing strategies.

Together, they created a mobile GIS system that uses mobile devices (such as ipads and smart phones) along with ArcGIS Online (a collaborative web GIS for sharing maps, scenes, analytics and data) and the ESRI Collector app (collects, updates and logs data from the field). Data is easily transmitted between administrative offices and foremen, creating real-time information as well as graphical visualizations of the plowing status of subdivision routes at a glance. The system creates record-keeping capabilities for all snow-related activities so historical information, before and after pictures, and special notes for crews can be compiled.

Clark reports the system has been in limited use for three years with expansion to the entire county planned for next season. The program will leverage the county’s enterprise licensing agreement with ESRI, a GIS mapping software platform, and mobile devices already issued to public works staff for work-related purposes. As a result, the county will incur no additional expense to implement the new GIS system while eliminating paper records for complaints and work orders, and realizing significant potential savings by reducing re-treatments and damage complaints.

He suggested this technology could be used for additional applications such as mosquito control, leaf collection and debris in waterways. “It’s proving to be a great tool for documenting who, where, when and what was performed. It’s eliminating the need for paper records and is helping us be accountable to private citizens,” explained Clark. “Perhaps most importantly, it’s helping us to coordinate the 15 foremen, 57 city trucks, 11 hired trucks and 10 push trucks that are deployed to lay down chemicals and remove snow every time there is a snow event. That’s a massive coordination project and the GIS app can handle it with ease.”

The ‘Build a Better Mousetrap’ competition recognizes the most innovative solutions to common transportation problems, focusing on the development of tools, equipment modifications or processes that increase safety, reduce cost, and improve efficiency and the quality of transportation.  As the winner of the regional competition, the Henrico Department of Public Works’ mobile GIS entry will represent Virginia’s LTAP at the National LTAP/TTAP annual conference to be held July 17-20 in Portsmouth-Norfolk, Virginia.

“Our goal was to improve communications so quick decisions could be made about where and when to send road crews to address poor conditions or downed hazards,” said Collins. “It’s an extraordinary bonus to have our solution recognized among those of our peers and colleagues at the national level.”

For more information about the GIS app for snow plow operations, contact Jason Collins at jason.collins@henrico.us.



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