For two years, South Windsor, Conn., has been using BlackBerry smartphones and GPS/GIS technology to track public works crews in real time, and since, has seen a significant savings in time and manpower. The mobile phones are used to monitor and help progress street sweeping, leaf collection, snow plowing, and lawn mowing.

South Windsor's Director of Public Works Michael Gantick, PE, and Director of Information Technology, Scott Roberts, GISP, were the brains behind the strategy.

"Scott and I were always thinking 'What can we do better,'" says Gantick, "One day I had just gotten a BlackBerry and said 'Wouldn't it be great to take the GPS on the BlackBerry and use it on our GIS for leaf collection?'"

The two began exploring companies for appropriate software, discovered Freeance Mobile for real-time GIS on BlackBerry phones, and during the summer of 2008 purchased 20 BlackBerry phones. The phones are assigned, as needed, to crews for each task, so locations can be tracked and crews can transfer date from the field. Within two weeks they began collecting multi-operational data.

Before the department's transition to smartphones, drivers reported their progress to their supervisor in person. At the end of each workday, the supervisor manually updated a phone system that allowed residents to call in and learn what areas would be worked on the next day.

Now the tracking system uses an external GPS receiver on the vehicles' windshield to capture location information. The receiver then uses Bluetooth technology to channel location data to the BlackBerry phone plugged into the dashboard power outlet. The information is then transferred to the Internet through Sprint Nextel's wireless network. A server at the public works department then uses the town's ESRI technology and the Freeance application to collect the location data, display it on a map, and create data collection forms.

The technology frees a supervisor to monitor vehicles in real time and update the phone system and Web page for residents even sooner. Communication between the department and residents positively increased, and the town can now make better forecasts as to what areas may need extra attention in the future.

On Monday, Gantick and Roberts' presentation illustrated their vision and goals, how they began using the technology, and the challenges they faced. They shared with attendees a diagram of their system, the various programs and applications managed by the GPS/GIS technology, and the benefits they saw.

While the technology is still developing, Gantick and Roberts hope their session at Congress served as food for thought for attendees to think outside the box and always consider how they can provide better service for their communities.

American Public Works Association 2010 Congress
"Using GPS/GIS Technology via Blackberry Phones for Managing Public Works Programs"
Michael Gantick, PE
Director of Public Works
Scott Roberts, GISP
Director of Information Technology
Town of South Windsor, Conn.
Mon., Aug. 16, 2010
3 ­- 3:50 p.m.