GREENFIELD — A click and a glance is all it takes to see how quickly – or how painstakingly slowly – snow removal is happening on rural roads throughout Hancock County.
The Hancock County Highway Department has traded in its paper maps and Sharpie pens for a GPS system that not only tracks where trucks have been plowing throughout the county, but their speed, maintenance issues and more.
The equipment was installed just this week. The 6-inch snowfall and drifting on Thursday gave the department its first chance to use the new technology. Gary Pool, highway engineer, said the new system will come in handy not only again this weekend, but year-round.
“Sunday will stretch our system more,” Pool added. “We’ll try to focus on the main roads and help emergency services.”
Pool, who has been on the job about a month, was eager to get into his new role overseeing the department, which maintains nearly 700 miles of rural roads. He came in just after his predecessor, Joe Copeland, got county commissioners to sign off on a $19,000, three-year contract with Verizon to install GPS devices in the fleet.
Fifteen devices were purchased, and six have been installed so far, giving Pool a good taste for how it all works.
And he likes what he sees. Gone are the days where officials would track routes on paper. Now, Pool just pulls up a map and sees color-coded dots – one for each truck – moving in real time throughout the county to remove snow and spread salt and sand.
The new system is the only one of its kind in the area: neither the Greenfield Street Department nor the Indiana Department of Transportation use GPS to track their vehicles. A former consultant for a civil engineering firm, Pool says he’s seen this type of technology in the private sector for years.
“On the private side, it’s fairly common, but the price has come down so much the public sector can use it,” he said.
Pool can track how quickly a vehicle is going, how much ground it has covered over a certain period of time and whether a driver has stopped or is having a maintenance problem.
The system can help identify which driver is closest to a trouble spot – a vital piece of information needed when a resident calls in to the highway department concerned about their road, Pool said.
The system can help the department throughout the entire year.
“A pothole pops up, and I can see immediately who’s the closest,” he said.
Scott Engle, equipment manager for the highway department, said the system reports mileage of vehicles and maintenance problems. If a check-engine light comes on, Engle knows that it needs to be looked at.
And the system is completely hands-free. Once a GPS device is installed in the truck, the driver just leaves it alone and lets the technology do all the reporting to the Osage Street office.
“The driver has nothing to do with it,” Pool said. “We really want our drivers to concentrate on operating the vehicle.”
And while the department will certainly have technology on its side when it comes to removing snow Sunday and Monday, the forecast for drifting and sub-zero temperatures will provide plenty of challenges.
Pool says at least the GPS system will help the department determine what roads have been hit when drifting occurs, but this weekend could still prove difficult to keep up.
“Trying to predict Mother Nature is hard sometimes,” he said.