Wayne County, Mich., Beefs Up Weather App

The county's award-winning Compass app has been infused with a slew of new features targeting mobile users who want to stay safe in the snow.

by / January 27, 2014
Wayne County, Mich.

Officials in snowy Wayne County, Mich., released an upgrade to their Web-based app that allows users to track snowplows and snow services in real time. The mapping service, called Compass, was originally launched in December 2011, and it now has new functionality to better equip residents with information to stay safe in the snow. And the app's timing couldn't be better -- Detroit, the county's seat, has seen record-setting snowfall, with this January being the city's snowiest on record with more than 30 inches.

The website allows users to see where snowplows are located, which routes have been cleared and other related data like the locations of the county’s salt trucks. Live video feeds from some county vehicles and traffic cameras are also viewable. The new app adds functionality including pinpointing the user’s location by GPS, a tool to report hazards like fallen trees, traffic and emergency alerts, weather radar, as well as information about local services like towing companies, gas stations and police stations.

The goal is to provide local travelers with all the information and tools they need during the winter months, said Edward Winfield, CIO of Wayne County. This winter has been particularly harsh and Compass saw a lot of use, Winfield said, adding that from December to mid-January the website had more than 11,000 visits, with 90 percent of that traffic coming from mobile devices.

Where the Rubber Meets the Snow

Sliding sideways down the road is the traditional way of detecting ice, but Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada think there's a better way. Those states are piloting mini weather labs attached to snowplows that measure temperature, humidity, surface conditions and dew point where the rubber meets the road.  

The snowplow labs, as described in a CBS News report, constantly monitor road conditions as the trucks travel about the region, providing a near-realtime snapshot of every mile traveled. The data is displayed in each snowplow, and accumulated by dispatchers for use in prioritizing plowing, salting and sanding.

The technology is not only helpful in preventing sideways slides, it saves money by showing exactly where salt and sand are needed, reducing waste and environmental impact. New York is slated to begin testing the system later this month. -- News Staff

“Compass has been an invaluable tool for Wayne County residents through the recent heavy snows and cold temperatures,” Winfield said. “It has allowed people to review the real-time situation on the roads and make good decisions about their commute and travel.”

Winfield said the feedback has generally been positive, and several residents praised the tool on the county’s Facebook page. “On snowy days, I love the fact that I can see real-time traffic flow via the Compass app and pick my route based on where the plows are currently deployed,” one fan wrote. “The video camera equipped trucks are an added bonus allowing see [sic] what road conditions really look like.”

Being proactive in providing this information, which the county knows the public needs and wants, is one of Winfield’s jobs as CIO, he said. In the past, people would call and complain that their street hadn’t been plowed, and that type of communication is more costly and aggravating than using Compass, he said. Now residents can use the app to see exactly what the county is doing, instead of just looking out their windows and wondering when snow removal crews would arrive. It’s proving to be a worthy investment, Winfield said.

Creating the mobile app took about one year's worth of work, according to the county, split between three developers who worked on the project in-house.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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