"There is so much going on at LANL regarding the type of work happening that's critical to national security. A lot is on the line if we shut down the lab for a single day. GIS gives our leadership insight they never had before to make those tough calls and keeps our folks safe."
The Secret behind Keeping Los Alamos National Laboratory Open in the Winter
Most visitors to Los Alamos, New Mexico, are attracted by Los Alamos National Laboratory's (LANL) history as the headquarters of the Manhattan Project—specifically, the development of the world's first atomic weapons program. What most are unaware of is that LANL spans approximately 40 square miles, with 165 lane miles of road to maintain, and employs more people than reside in the main townsite of Los Alamos. Basically, it is a city within a town.
Sitting 7,500 feet above sea level and averaging around 41 inches of snowfall annually, LANL is prone to snow-covered and iced roads during winter. Campus operations are responsible for clearing roadways, sidewalks, and parking lots before Mother Nature disrupts the Lab's contribution to the country's nuclear deterrence and other scientific research. Using geographic information system (GIS) technology, campus operations enhance roadway safety and minimize the need to close the campus due to winter weather—a matter of national security at LANL.
Prior to using GIS for their snow removal operations, superintendents would rely on calling the teamsters driving the snowplows to inquire about which roads were cleared. After calling snow teamsters, snow removal duty officers (SRDO) would check off a list of which roads and arterial highways had been cleared to understand each snow event better. Often, the decision to keep the campus open was based on nonvisual information and a hunch.
SRDOs dreamed of being at multiple places across the campus during a snow event to make a more informed decision. GIS technology helped bring that dream to reality.After collecting all of the data points of interest for snow operations, Christina Chavez, program manager at LANL, convened with SRDOs, forepersons, general forepersons, and mobile workers.
"Meeting with the individuals who conduct snow removal helped me understand their concerns and what data they needed to see before making a decision that would impact 15,000 people," said Chavez.
Chavez and team reached out to the LANL GIS Program to see what options were possible for better workflows and to support making high-level decisions regarding weather-related lab delays and closures. Working with the GIS Program resulted in a suite of GIS applications, including a request GeoForm and management app, a data editor app, and a dashboard. Now, the snow removal team uses GIS to streamline their workflow, making their jobs easier and more transparent across the organization.
The new workflow is as follows:
The teamsters, operators, and laborers call their forepersons/general forepersons located at Roads and Grounds, the base of operations, when they complete an area. Using the Snow Removal Operations Editor, the snow app operator updates the completed section/zone in the application.
The plowing completion status is then reflected in the Snow Removal Operations Status dashboard, which refreshes every 30 seconds. As more areas of the campus are cleared, the percentages displayed for roads, sidewalks, and parking lots reflect how much more of the campus remains to be plowed.
The dashboard pulls real-time GPS location information of the snowplows, so the superintendent can track snowplow movements as drivers go about their plow assignments. The dashboard also integrates weather tower information and live camera feeds from priority one roads and intersections. The cameras allow the SRDOs to browse the campus from the map, click an intersection, zoom in, and pan the cameras within the dashboard. This way, before someone needs to inspect the road in person, they can do so from the comfort of the operations base.
On top of the several advantages that the dashboard quickly provides to leadership, the GIS Program team later added a histogram serial chart to the dashboard that tells how long it took to clear and plow all areas of the campus. From the time a spike appears in the histogram to the time it falls flat, leadership can determine the amount of time it took to clear the roads. Again, this provides more insight and detailed information that their previous workflow lacked.
Additionally, the snow team will capture site-wide post-snowstorm requests to address icy and snow-packed areas via the Snow Calls Manager. The Snow Calls Manager creates a cluster map of impacted areas and organizes data per snow event. Knowing that certain areas need additional attention helps with future snow events.