January 18, 2012 By Sarah Rich
With winter in full swing, Chicago plowed through its first major snowstorm of the season last week with the help of an online snowplow tracker.
The real-time online map plots where the city’s snowplows are operating during heavy snowfall. Last week’s storm marked the first time the Plow Tracker was turned on for public viewing. The tracker is one of the features on ChicagoShovels.org, the city’s snow portal launched earlier this month that citizens can use as a tool for accessing information and services related to the snowy weather.
People apparently flocked to the online map. A tweet from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office revealed Chicago city government had its highest ever amount of Web traffic due to people viewing the Plow Tracker. The second highest use of the site was from the launch of ChicagoShovels.org, and the third was during a blizzard that occurred last February.
The tracker is only activated when the snowplows are in use. Above the map is updated information on what percentage of the city’s snowplow fleet is in use at a given moment, as well as updates on snowplow operator shift changes.
Kevin Hauswirth, the city’s social media director, said this additional information gives users a better understanding of what they’re seeing. It’s important to put the technology out there, and also provide some context, he said.
Overall, the Plow Tracker was successful during its first run, Hauswirth said. The tracker was turned on as the snowplows were going out into the streets before any snow hit the ground.
Half of the snowplow fleet was on the Chicago roads last week before the snow came down. Once the snow started and continued to come down, the entire fleet — nearly 300 snowplows — were in operation.
As citizens were viewing the real-time information through the tracker, they were simultaneously engaging on Facebook and Twitter to ask the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office questions about the snowplows.
City officials said there are more than 9,000 lane miles in Chicago. Because so many streets need to be cleared of snow, Hauswirth said the city anticipated that residents would contact the city through social networking sites to ask when the street they live on would get cleared.
“During this whole [snowstorm], we’re tweeting with people and we’re answering questions people had about, ‘Why is this thing over here? How is this working?’” Hauswirth said. “So as we turn the plow tracker on, now we’re not only turning the plows on, we’re turning on the conversation of how the snow program is actually working.”
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