Thinking Snow? SnowCOP Technology

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SnowPlowWhat? You aren’t thinking about snow right now? Well, while you swelter, city workers are busy fine-tuning their snow removal technology.

Yes, you read that right– Technology. If you think ‘snow removal technology’ just means plows and salt trucks, then meet SnowCOP, Boston’s snow removal data system.

Each plow driver, public and private, carries a GPS-enabled phone which feeds data in Boston’s SnowCOP. The data is plotted onto a map of the city, which is broken down into 200 snow zones. The map shows the current location of the vehicles, as well as color coding each street to show whether it has been plowed in the last hour, two hours or longer.

This lets Public Works Department (“PWD”) managers know what areas of the city and what streets aren’t getting enough attention, so they can redeploy plows. In addition, it lets them crosscheck citizen complaints – they can tell if a specific location has been plowed recently.

It also lets them keep tabs on the plow drivers, insuring that they are actively plowing public ways.

This winter, which saw a once-in-30 years level of snowfall (we hope), tested Boston’s snow removal resources. At the height of the largest storms, the city deployed over 100 pieces of city-owned equipment plus approximately 450 contractors. SnowCOP takes the inexact science of snow removal and gives Boston PWD managers useful data to identify problems and make deployment decisions.

SnowCOP has evolved over several years, but it started with a simple question from the Mayor – how can I know what the city’s snow removal assets are doing during a storm? The system began as a project among the Mayor’s Constituent Service Center and the Department of Innovation and Technology and has moved over to the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Boston PWD Chief of Staff Matt Mayrl notes that the system was still evolving. Next on the City’s wish list is enhanced predictive features to allow plow deployment planning in advance of a storm.

So, it may be the dog days of August now, but someone, somewhere is already thinking about snow.

(Photo Credit: Patty Colabuono; IStockPhoto image)