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GCN : January and February 2016
[BrieFing] In the wake of January’s record- setting snowstorm, many residents of the Mid-Atlantic states probably didn’t know when their streets would be clear. If they lived in Iowa, however, they could simply have gone to the state’s Track a Plow website to see in near-real time where snow plows were and in which direction they were heading. In fact, the site — the first iteration of which launched three years ago — shows much more than the location and direction of the state’s 900-plus plows. Because they are equipped with geolocation devices and a variety of sensors, the plows also provide information on road conditions and closures and whether trucks are applying liquid or solid materials to counter snow and ice. That data is regularly uploaded to the site, which also offers near-real-time video and photos of conditions. Eric Abrams, geospatial manager at the Iowa Department of Transporta- tion, said the popular service is “one of the greatest public interface things that DOT has ever done.” Beyond everyday travelers, the site’s heavy users include news stations, freight companies and school districts. Track a Plow has been frequently enhanced in the past two years, be- ginning with the installation of video cameras. “The challenge was to find a cost-effective way to put cams in the plows and then get those images not just to supervisors but to the public,” Abrams said. The solution was dashboard- mounted iPhones that transmit time and location data in addition to im- ages. The phones were free with the department’s Verizon data plan. “Our IT division built a custom iPhone app that is configurable for how often it sends pictures back to headquarters here, where we process them and get them out to the feed,” he said. The system’s sensor data includes air temperature, road temperature, the types of material that are being spread by the trucks and engine per- formance data. “When an engine light comes on, a mechanic can diagnose it remotely,” Abrams said. There are even sensors to detect whether the plow blade is up or down. In addition to informing the public, Iowa fights snow with data BY PATRICK MARSHALL IOWADOT.MAPS.ARCGIS.COM 8 GCN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 • GCN.COM Iowa’s Track a Plow website shows residents where snow plows are working and where they are heading in near-real time. 0216gcn_008-010.indd 8 2/4/16 1:19 PM
March and April 2016