Technology that’s traditionally been used for perimeter security at prisons and airports is getting a new role in Colorado: detecting wildlife along highways and warning drivers in real time. A cable buried nine inches underground detects changes in the Earth’s electromagnetic field, like the presence of a large animal, and transmits that information to a sensor. An onsite control then activates electronic signs to warn drivers that wildlife is nearby.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) installed its first

system on a stretch of US 160 where wildlife-vehicle collisions accounted for as much as 70 percent of all accidents. “We knew that area had a history of animal-vehicle collisions, so we decided to try that area first,” said CDOT engineer Kevin Curry.

Wildlife detection systems have been installed in three other areas since the pilot began in 2008. Although fencing off roadways is the most reliable way to prevent these accidents, it’s not viable on animal migration routes. At the latest installations, detection systems are placed at the ends of wildlife fencing, giving CDOT a multipronged approach to human and animal safety. The new sites also are less complicated — they don’t use technology like data recording found in the pilot system, reducing costs and simplifying installation.

A full analysis of the data from the US 160 project hasn’t been completed, however, CDOT’s preliminary information shows a 38 percent decrease in wildlife-vehicle collisions in that area.

While the system has garnered interest from other agencies, even internationally, CDOT is unaware of the technology being used this way anywhere else. Now the department is looking into a portable system to test in other areas prone to animal-vehicle collisions. “We feel we’re on the right track,” Curry said.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Read about more dirty jobs in government

Elaine Pittman  |  Associate Editor

Elaine Pittman is the associate editor for Government Technology, Public CIO and Emergency Management. Before coming to Government Technology, she worked for The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.