Technology gets bigger role in winter readiness

December 13, 2007|By Jennifer Choi | Jennifer Choi,Sun reporter

With one snowfall brushed aside and a messy wintry mix in the forecast, Baltimore County officials delivered their annual promise yesterday that they are prepared to clear the roads of anything that falls from the skies.

This year, they unveiled a new feature for their fleet of snowplows: Global Positioning System devices that will help them monitor the progress of any snow-clearing effort.

"Is it a fix for snow removal? No," said Tim Burgess, chief of the Baltimore County Bureau of Highways. "It's not another shovel, but it's a tool to keep track of that shovel."

Yesterday's announcement at the county's Emergency Operations Center came as forecasters warned of an icy mix moving into the Baltimore area. The National Weather Service reported that sleet and freezing rain were possible, mainly after 4 a.m. today.

Carroll, Harford and northern Baltimore counties were included in a winter weather advisory in effect until 6 p.m., with the possibility that some northern areas might remain icy through the day.

Dealing with winter weather has been described as a fundamental test of an elected leader's competence. In snow-panic-prone metropolitan Baltimore, government declarations of readiness have become a yearly rite.

"County Executive John R. Leopold Assures Citizens that the County is Prepared for Winter Weather," read the headline on an announcement last week from Anne Arundel County government. Earlier, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman issued a written reminder that residents there can monitor the deployment of plows over the Internet.

Suburban Baltimore counties set aside millions of dollars to fight snow. Baltimore County spends about $3.5 million a year removing snow and ice from more than 2,600 miles of roads. This year, the county has more than 50,000 tons of salt (at $52 a ton) stored at 14 sites. The county says it has 300 trucks and 400 workers ready to clear roads.

Harford County has a snow-removal budget of $1.8 million, and Howard County spent $350,000 just for salt - 6,500 tons of it.

Howard County started using GPS on their plows about five years ago. Howard residents can go online to the county's home page to track the progress of the vehicles in real time.

Anne Arundel County began using GPS on its snowplows about three years ago, said Tracie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works.

Baltimore City, which has 180 pieces of snow removal equipment, added GPS to its vehicles last year, said David Brown, spokesman for city Department of Transportation. City officials hope to eventually set up a system that allows residents to go online to find out if a truck has been down their street.

Baltimore County residents will not be able to track vehicle movement online, a feature with a price of up to $1 million, said Robert R. Stradling, director of the county's office of information technology.

"It was quicker and more cost-effective not to add online tracking," Stradling said. "And, there are many more worthwhile projects where that money could be used."

Baltimore County has outfitted 250 vehicles with GPS and bought an additional 125 devices for contracted trucks. The systems and one year of service cost the county $177,000.

If the forecast holds true, this week would be the first time the devices will be in operation for the whole fleet, officials said.

The weekend forecast for the area includes the likelihood of snow and sleet Saturday night, and a chance of snow Sunday.

"You just wait and see what Mother Nature gives you and act accordingly," Burgess, the county highways chief, said.

jenny.choi@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.

Information on snow removal

Baltimore: Call 311 or visit baltimorecity.gov/government/transportat ion/maintenance.php, click on Snow page.

Baltimore County: Call 410-887-3300 or visit www.co.ba.md.us/.

Anne Arundel County: Call 410-222-7321 or visit www.aacounty.org/.

Howard County: Call 410-313-3440 or 410-313-3441 or visit www.howardcountymd .gov/DPW/DPW_SnowRem oval.htm.

Carroll County: Call 410-386-6717 or visit www.ccgovernment.carr.org.

Harford County: Call 410-638-3279 or visit www.harfordcountymd.gov, go to government, and closings and delays.

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