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Case study

Mason County Road Commission boosts its snow removal efficiency

I can find anybody at any given time and if there's trouble, we can know about it right away. And that definitely helps answer some of our phone calls. I just love being able to track the trucks and just know that everything's good.
Mary Samuels
Director and Manager of the Mason County Road Commission

When Mary Samuels heads into the office every day, she knows she's likely to receive a lot of phone calls. As Director and Manager of the Mason County (Mich.) Road Commission, Samuels fields requests ranging from filling potholes to dealing with a fallen tree.

But when the snowy winter months arrive, Samuels knows the majority of phone callers will be wanting information about slick and dangerous road conditions.

Given that the commission has approximately 237 miles of county roads and 716 miles of local roads to maintain in Western Michigan, gathering information on snowy road conditions and keeping the public informed isn’t always easy. The commission also has a sizeable fleet of vehicles to look after, including 18 pickup trucks, 28 dump trucks with snowplows and 134 pieces of equipment such as dozers, loaders, tree graders and excavators.

Looking for a better way to track its fleet in the field while also informing the public about the status of hour-by-hour snowplowing operations, the Mason County Road Commission partnered with Verizon Connect.

Tracking snowplows proves challenging

Plowing the roads following a snowfall keeps the Mason County Road Commission team busy, but the decentralized nature of their work also makes monitoring its fleet critically important, according to Samuels.

“Our team goes to many places where cell phones and radios don't work,” she said. “In a snowstorm, they could be stranded for who knows how long before we're able to find them.”

If a resident complained that their road hadn't been plowed, or that snow removal operations had damaged their property, the commission had little choice but to take them at their word. “There was no way to find out exactly what happened,” Samuels said.

Residents were similarly in the dark about how quickly snowplows might reach them after a major snowfall, or what road conditions might be like when they needed to leave their homes once a storm had passed.

The commission finds a way to track fleet, inform public

Mason County Road Commission transformed its snowplowing services by integrating Verizon Connect Reveal, a near-real-time fleet management platform, with SnowPaths, a Verizon-powered application designed specifically for managing snow-removal operations.

By deploying Reveal on its fleet of snowplow trucks, Mason County Road Commission is able to collect data about the location of each vehicle as well as the speed at which vehicles travel to an assignment. This data is then pulled into SnowPaths, which features a dashboard showing all the plows and routes, the percentage of plowing completion, as well as end-of-shift viewing and reporting.

This integrated solution keeps the public informed, too. Local residents can access an online portal that shows the progress of snowplowing operations by area and timing. A color-coded map interface shows if a road has been plowed within the last two to four hours, the last four to six hours, or not at all.

Reveal also gives Samuels the data to mitigate potential vehicle maintenance issues, and to help keep the drivers safe and protected. GPS units show where the trucks are at all times. If a driver is stuck with no cell phone reception or working radio in a big snowstorm, Samuels' team can use the GPS data to locate them, so they aren't left stranded.

A clear path to better snow removal operations

With Verizon Connect Reveal and SnowPaths in place, Mason County Road Commission has been able to benefit from:

Transparency into service status for residents

When county residents want to know if their road has been plowed—or, if not, when the plows are coming—their options are no longer limited to calling Samuels and her team. Instead, the color-coded map interface provides them with near-real-time information.

“People can just bring that up and see the colors on there. They don't even need to put their address in,” Samuels said. “If you put your address in, it will bring you to your particular road to see what's going on.”

Irrefutable proof of service

It’s easy for residents to mistakenly believe they have not received the service they expected, particularly amid snowy conditions. Thanks to the reports from Reveal and SnowPaths, however, seeing is believing.

“I've had people call us in the afternoon really upset, saying their road hadn't been plowed, but we had been there in the morning,” she said. “Now, we can show them we were there.”

The same technology shows where trucks might be brining roads to alleviate dust conditions, Samuels added, or to prove that a truck didn't damage property.

Improved responsiveness and resource allocation

Samuels and her team need to make the best use of the vehicles and drivers that they have, so she uses the data from Reveal and SnowPaths to dispatch her staff to the areas they are needed most. Plow operators also use the maps in their dashboards to view areas that still need to be plowed after they are done with their assignments.

Reliable communication, regardless of location

The road commission team can encounter harsh conditions. No matter what happens, though, Samuels can use Reveal and SnowPaths to understand what's going on. This includes reports that show when a vehicle is idling and for how long, or if it has stopped because a deer has walked onto the road.

When severe weather strikes, Samuels can easily reach out to her team and to residents. For example, she can check in with her drivers to make sure they are safe, and notify residents when they need to stay home.

“There's a place you can put in notifications, so often I'll go in when we're having a snow event and give a brief weather report or just encourage people to stay home,” she said. “I try to update that every day in the wintertime.”

Visibility into the whole fleet

Local news outlets, municipal officials and school boards may all need to know where the plows are once snow starts falling. Samuels said Reveal and SnowPaths provide the granular view into the status of every vehicle that she needs.

"I can find anybody at any given time and if there's trouble, we can know about it right away. And that definitely helps answer some of our phone calls," she said. “I just love being able to track the trucks and just know that everything's good."

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