Winter Weather Operations provided those two crucial tools. We created this internal operations tool for us to view, analyze, and track our operations, but it also provided that public feedback portion of it. It just hit all the things that we were looking to accomplish.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Leverages Winter Weather Solutions to Improve Trail Plowing Activities
The vibrant city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has one of the most extensive public park systems in the nation. The city's 185 parks offer residents over 200 miles of biking and walking trails, seven golf courses, and natural assets that include 22 lakes and 12 gardens. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) manages active recreation programs and park assets for the entire Minneapolis park system.
With more than 50 inches of snowfall each year, MPRB is responsible for plowing park trails, sidewalks, ice rinks, and adjacent parking lots to ensure residents’ safety as they commute and enjoy the outdoors. This involves efficiently managing operations in the office and giving snowplow vehicle operators the best data in the field to do their job. Each request for plowing a specific trail or area corresponds with a work order, which must be closed out by the driver after plowing.
To improve operations, staff at MPRB were exploring different tools to track snowplow drivers in the field and automate the process for closing work orders. This was part of a larger initiative to utilize data and information to improve operations and services they deliver to residents. However, any options they looked at were either cost prohibitive or difficult to implement. But then they found Esri’s Winter Weather solutions.
The project and systems team of MPRB deployed Esri’s Winter Weather Operations and Winter Weather Outreach solutions. Designed to track and report snowplow activity in real time, the solutions have improved snowplow operations, increased operational effectiveness, and helped MPRB communicate the status of snowplow operations to the public.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
MPRB needed a way to increase efficiency, accuracy, and transparency in their management of snowplowing operations to keep up with Minneapolis’ snowfall and deliver the best service to residents.
Esri's Winter Weather solutions have provided a way to track and report snowplow activity in real time.
The use of the Winter Weather solutions has given MPRB a holistic view of operations and has streamlined snowplowing both in the field and the office. The real-time data has allowed MPRB to work proactively, respond to plowing needs live in the field, and transparently communicate with the public.
According to Chris DesRoches, project and systems manager for MPRB, MPRB wanted a more holistic picture of the work that needs to get done across the system, which would help it make informed decisions in the field.
MPRB also wanted to better manage work orders. With MPRB’s old work orders and asset management software, snowplow drivers would plow a trail segment, access the work order system on their phones, and manually close the work order. Kelly Armstrong, project and systems analyst for MPRB, says the drivers were spending a lot of time just performing these actions.
This time-consuming process, which helps MPRB track work, was also causing inaccuracies, mainly when drivers weren’t able to immediately close a work order. Operations managers began checking the system each day to see if trail segments were closed properly.
“Anytime anything is under 90 percent accurate, it's 0 percent accurate, right? And so, if 1 out of 10 of our drivers weren't closing their work orders in time, or not doing it, we couldn't trust that any of the information was accurate,” says DesRoches. “It became more of a tracking system that just wasn't working well.”
MPRB also wanted a way to communicate more effectively with the public. Residents submitted feedback to MPRB asking for details on how and when trails are plowed, so MPRB wanted a new solution that would allow it to provide more up-to-date information.
The public can submit maintenance requests via different channels such as calling the city or MPRB call centers or by e-mail, but they don’t often know what happens to their requests after they’re submitted. MPRB wanted to improve visibility into these requests and ensure that the public not only had a centralized place to submit their requests but could also check on their status.
To receive real-time information from the field, DesRoches and Armstrong licensed ArcGIS Velocity, a software as a service (SaaS) offering for Internet of Things (IoT) analytics. The system MPRB currently uses to track vehicles is Verizon, with units placed in each snowplowing vehicle to enable tracking.
“ArcGIS Velocity piggybacked on our current system. It has a premade tool to ingest Verizon-specific data feeds from our automatic vehicle location (AVL) or automatic vehicle monitoring (AVM) system. So that was helpful,” says Armstrong.
DesRoches and Armstrong also began exploring different options to manage the data received from ArcGIS Velocity and discovered Esri’s Winter Weather solutions, which help agencies develop winter weather response plans, monitor weather operations, and respond to requests for service. Winter Weather Operations uses ArcGIS Velocity and live sensor data from its AVL system to determine when trails were last serviced. Armstrong says that ArcGIS Velocity seamlessly integrated with the current system.
“From a GIS perspective, the ability to develop our own solution was fairly limited,” says DesRoches. “I think the biggest advantage that we saw in ArcGIS Velocity and the Winter Weather Operations was having a solution that was configurable and didn't require a lot of additional hardware or servers.”
Armstrong says they used documentation on the Esri site as well as community forums to begin learning how to implement and configure the Winter Weather solutions. The pair also received help from their in-house geographic information system (GIS) analyst administrator.
“I think it was far more advantageous for us to do [the setup] ourselves. I understand the solutions much more intimately. I can kind of fix any hiccups because I went through the implementation,” says Armstrong.
MPRB performs similar operations on the parking lots and outdoor rinks it manages as well as on the sidewalks and walking and biking trails. The up-to-date details are now shared on a public-facing map.
MPRB was already using Verizon Reveal to track vehicles and had units placed in each truck or piece of equipment used to remove snow. The real-time data from the sensors is ingested with ArcGIS Velocity. Once a vehicle is turned on, the location tracking begins, and the moving vehicles are viewable on a map. Information like vehicle speed and direction can also be viewed. This snowplow feed is a live feed that updates every 10 seconds and ultimately feeds into MPRB’s internal operation management tool from Winter Weather Operations.
The result is a vehicle stream that shows details like the last location of a plow and metrics on how far drivers have driven in each snow event. Each snow event is created when the team starts tracking vehicles during snowfall.
MPRB did a soft launch of the revamped solution in December 2022, which has helped improve operations and deliver vital information to residents. DesRoches says following the initial launch, they noticed a huge difference in the accuracy of the information they were producing from the first snow event to the second snow event.
“Very quickly, we were able to see in terms of all the segmentation that Kelly [Armstrong] did what was working well, what wasn't working well, and where we were not capturing things, and were then able to very quickly turn around some updates and solutions,” says DesRoches.
The use of Winter Weather Operations and ArcGIS Velocity has allowed the team to perform advanced analysis and use data to improve decision-making. DesRoches explains that the AVL system was collecting data on snowplow locations, but until the visualization was available via a map or dashboard, the information wasn’t usable.
“I think the biggest thing is that difference between data and information. The AVL was producing all this data. It's collecting the pings, it knows where the vehicles are, but where it turns into information is via its organization and visualization to the folks who then can make decisions based on that,” says DesRoches.
Armstrong says the implementation of the Winter Weather solutions and ArcGIS Velocity has enabled them to take the data collected about their snowplow vehicles and conduct analysis, see what trail segments are closed, and obtain a high level of details like time stamps and history. “[Previously] you could see where things are and see if vehicles were speeding, or if they go outside of an area, but bringing all that data into GIS will allow us to do the things we're looking to do,” he says.
The use of Winter Weather Operations has streamlined plowing operations both in the field and the office. DesRoches says they can proactively work with operations staff to dispatch drivers to areas in need because they know when a trail was last serviced. They no longer need to wait for requests to come in. Also, operations staff can now look at the map at the start of a shift and more easily determine what needs to be completed.
“That real-time information and staff being able to essentially see a map and a dashboard, [lets them] respond to it in the field. We have 18 plow operators. They're not going to be able to communicate exactly what was done or what wasn't done,” says DesRoches. “But now, by having this, we can actually have folks in the office or drive around and be able to see that real-time service data.”
Along with Winter Weather Operations, MPRB also implemented the Winter Weather Outreach solution. Using this, the board established the public-facing Trail Plowing Status Map web page that allows the public to view the trail plowing live status and history, view a map of locations of MPRB services, and submit maintenance or plowing requests with an ArcGIS Survey123 form. Survey123 is a form-centric data-gathering solution. The public now has visibility into all requests and how the board has responded to them, in an approach DesRoches calls “radically transparent.”
“We saw this as a solution not only communicating and pulling in information for us and for our staff but also being able to communicate with the public. This solution allows us to provide information directly to the public that says, ‘This trail that you are going to take downtown was plowed 30 minutes ago’,” says DesRoches.
If there is a trail that is not currently being plowed, the pair added a map with requests from the public on trails they’d like cleared, which they’ll examine during the season to see if operations can be expanded.
“We want to get input from the public about what trails they use and would like to see plowed that we don't [currently] plow. We don’t want to hide the information [about how we’re working],” says Armstrong. “We show the areas in our operations that we need to correct too. We don't want to be afraid to share it.”
The use of Winter Weather solutions has given MPRB a more holistic view of operations. Armstrong says several snowstorms into the season have shown some weak points in their plowing operations, and they are now able to address them, which would have been more difficult with their previous processes. They also have data to support the expansion of operations.
“Our old way of doing things was all anecdotal. This person knows this part, this person knows the situation on the ground over here, but there was no one place for somebody to visualize this and see how things are going right now in real time but also over the length of a snow event,” says Armstrong. "So, this solution has brought [operational challenges] to the forefront and now it's time to solve those.”
With the Winter Weather solutions, the process of receiving maintenance requests is now streamlined, saving time and increasing efficiency. Requests are entered online into the snow request manager where all staff can view the status. Previously requests were received via different channels including e-mails, text messages, and phone calls.
The success of this new system in improving operations has led the team to explore future uses. Armstrong says the new solution will be used similarly to manage and track mowing operations in the summer and garbage pickups in local parks.
“There are a ton of things to do with [the Winter Weather solutions], and I think the light bulb is turned on in how efficiencies could be created in a lot of our operations just by having a one-stop shop,” says Armstrong.
For more information, explore the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Snow Event Requester site and Trail Plowing Status Map here.
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