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Summer 2003
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Department of Fleet Management Implements Real-Time Vehicle Data Logging and Reporting

City of Chicago, Illinois, Takes GIS to the Streets

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The goal of MAGIC was to create a single standard environment for wireless data communications in support of field-based GIS and fleet monitoring.

The city of Chicago, Illinois, through its Department of Fleet Management, manages and maintains a fleet of nearly 8,000 vehicles with an annual budget of $100 million. These vehicles help provide a wide variety of public services including snow removal, trash pickup, street maintenance, and other functions as well as support for Chicago's airports including the world's busiest airport—O'Hare International Airport. To meet growing demands, officials have been modernizing department information systems over the past two years. The goal of this modernization has been to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of fleet operations and management. This has been done with an eye toward cost savings and improved fleet security following the events of September 11, 2001.

After implementing a computerized fleet management system in 2001, the Department of Fleet Management, with the assistance of Esri Business Partner System Development Integration (SDI) in Chicago, began investigating real-time automated vehicle location (AVL) solutions. Discussions with other city departments demonstrated a significant, common interest in such a solution based on wireless data communications. In fact, many city departments were already exploring wireless technologies in order to make business applications available to their workers out in the field. It became apparent that there existed a fundamental need to adopt a common wireless data communications infrastructure as part of implementing an automated vehicle tracking system.

Birth of MAGIC

Based on a directive from the Mayor's Office, the city's Multi-Agency Government Integrated Communications (MAGIC) project was born. The goal of MAGIC was to create a single standard environment for wireless data communications in support of field-based GIS and fleet monitoring and tracking. Phase 1 of the MAGIC system was deployed in late 2001. It involved establishing citywide wireless data communications through a contract with Verizon Wireless and implementing the Advantage System from engineering, sales, and marketing company Products Research, Incorporated (PRI), of Addison, Illinois, for real-time vehicle data logging and reporting. Wireless sensors and GPS receivers were installed on more than 300 city snow removal vehicles. Sensors provide instant information on vehicle location as well as diagnostics such as water temperature and oil pressure.

A key component of the Phase 1 rollout, completed in early 2002, included vehicle location tracking using a desktop GPS Viewer application built using MapObjects technology. This client desktop application was integrated into the Advantage System and leveraged city GIS basemap data made available in shapefile format.

"Phase 1 of MAGIC demonstrated the viability of this technology," says Rudy Urian, Department of Fleet Management's MAGIC project manager. "It also provided a technical and organizational framework upon which city departments could add functionality to support their specific, future operational requirements. MAGIC's electronic monitoring of city trucks and equipment will allow the city to be more efficient in its deployment of vehicles as well as proactive in spotting potential issues before they become major, costly problems."

Given the success of the Phase 1 MAGIC system, the city decided in early 2002 to embark on a broader rollout of MAGIC in preparation for the 2002-2003 winter season. This Phase 2 implementation included outfitting nearly 500 of the city's vehicles with wireless communication equipment and GPS receivers. It also involved developing a Web-based front end to the Advantage System. This replaced the original Visual Basic desktop client solution and incorporated Esri's ArcIMS and ArcSDE technology into the overall environment.

"A major goal of Phase 2 was to make the MAGIC system a more integrated part of the city's IT and GIS enterprise," says Scott Stocking, MAGIC technical project manager with the city's GIS Division under the Department of Business Information Systems. "We realized that the system needed to be more scalable over time and easier to maintain. It was also important to improve the currency and accuracy of GIS data presented to our users. This required reengineering the middle and top tier components of the system. A Web-based solution that could be centrally administered, utilize ArcIMS 4, leverage our enterprise database using ArcSDE, and communicate with the PRI Advantage vehicle database server made the most long-term sense. Also, since ArcIMS is a foundational technology for future city GIS applications, we decided this was a prudent direction in which to take the MAGIC system."

Responding to September 11, 2001

The Phase 2 initiative also offered the opportunity to enhance core MAGIC system capabilities. This included support for a drive card swipe to authorize use of the vehicle, text messaging, and vehicle reporting such as snowplow up/down and salt on/off status. Other enhancement objectives included spatial alerts when vehicles pass near critical facilities or ones that are off route, street address resolution based on vehicle location, and historical playback to determine past locations for selected time intervals. Many of these new features were identified in response to the need for heightened fleet security given the events of September 11, 2001. The city now requires that fleet assets be operated in a controlled fashion only by authorized personnel and fleet status/location be known at all times so fleet vehicles can be directed to the appropriate areas of the city during an emergency.

Phase 2 has been completed by the city working closely with PRI and GeoAnalytics, Inc., an Esri Business Partner with offices in the Chicago area and Madison, Wisconsin. GeoAnalytics has developed middleware components based on Java and an HTML client application that communicate via XML. These Web-based system components communicate with the Advantage database server via a SQL-stored procedures interface.

"We built the new MAGIC application around two subsystem components," says Peter Thum, president of GeoAnalytics. "One performs background status monitoring and is responsible for maintaining the status of each vehicle, any security alerts, and messages between the application user (commander) and vehicle drivers. The second subsystem handles all client requests made by MAGIC application users. This includes changes in GIS map display, vehicle queries, etc. It is a sound design and one that will scale well to meet future city vehicle monitoring and tracking needs, and it can also be interfaced with the city's enterprise applications such as the 311 service request system. The historical playback function is especially valuable."

Next Steps

Like many other cities around the country, the city of Chicago is currently under extreme budget constraints, and all projects and applications are under intense scrutiny. Subsequently, financial justification for new system investments is important. It is estimated that the Phase 1 MAGIC system rollout to support Streets and Sanitation's snow removal saved the city thousands of dollars in overtime staff costs because the snowplows were operated more efficiently.

This significant cost savings is impressive, but it is just the beginning. Other efficiencies in managing the city's fleet are emerging as departments begin to think of ways to include the MAGIC system in day-to-day operations. The Department of Fleet Management will be able to save significant time and money on vehicle maintenance by monitoring key vehicle operation characteristics (such as voltage, oil pressure, coolant temperature, etc.) to eliminate major repairs. The city's Department of Transportation can monitor truck traffic to and from construction sites to ensure the optimal flow of materials to these areas. Finally, the Water Department can dispatch repair trucks using the system during line breaks and know which shutoff valves to use by including their facility locations as a map layer in the MAGIC system.

For more information, contact Scott Stocking, City of Chicago BIS/GIS (tel.: 312-742-9294, e-mail: sstocking@cityofchicago.org), or Peter Thum, GeoAnalytics, Inc. (tel.: 608-241-7100, e-mail: pgthum@geoanalytics.com).

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