Credit: ESRI, Inc.

A well-managed geographic information system (GIS) can help an agency plan and execute an efficient snow-fighting program.
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    Configuring an AVL systemAutomatic vehicle location (AVL) technology uses a range of technologies—from satellites to computer workstations—to manage snowfighting vehicles.

The output from a route optimization program results in a digital display of each numbered route shown on the map in a unique color. Standard data browser tools are easy to use: zoom in/out, pan, and full extent. The auto-tracing command demonstrates how a snowplow should progress though its route. Aprintout of turn-by-turn directions can be generated for the driver to use until the route is learned or for substitute drivers not familiar with the route.

Optimized routing also identifies the need to relocate staging facilities for de-icing and aggregate materials. Salt domes often are not in the best location to service finely tuned routes. Repositioning existing facilities or adding new ones to further minimize downtime and fuel usage becomes an easier task.


AVL is the real-time depiction of in-service vehicles on a GIS map using a global positioning system (GPS) to establish location, and a communications link to relate this information to the GIS. The progress of snowplows equipped with AVL can be tracked remotely by supervisory personnel, and also by citizens if the information is made available via a city-maintained Web site. A “bread crumb” trail shows where roads already have been cleared.

In addition to current position, onboard sensors can relay other data back to the GIS. Of particular interest to supervisors are variables that affect the budget, such as deadhead time (plow up), operator break time, start/stop time of individual routes, amount of materials spread, fuel stops, and resumption of service.

Once captured, the information paints a complete picture of the resources expended in fighting a storm and removes much of the uncertainty involved in creating accurate budgets.

— Jeffrey Allen is a public works specialist at ESRI Inc., Redlands, Calif.