While millions across North America rang in the new year, an arctic cold front was brewing. During the first week of January 2014, polar weather conditions tracked across the continent, resulting in heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures. The 2014 North American Cold Wave and Polar Vortex affected parts of Canada and the U.S. from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, extending south to northeastern Mexico and north to Canada.

On January 7, all 50 states saw freezing temperatures at some point during the day, and some northern US states and parts of Canada experienced daylong temperatures colder than summer temperatures on Mars.

Thus began an extreme winter that continued to affect parts of North America well into March. While most of the US experienced below-average temperatures and higher precipitation than usual, the northern Midwest took the brunt of the winter weather, experiencing snowstorm after snowstorm and unusually cold temperatures.

With extreme weather comes extreme challenges. Record-breaking temperatures canceled flights and closed schools, businesses, and roads across the country. Local government agencies dealt with water main breaks, power outages, increased snow plowing needs, and much more. Fortunately, organizations equipped with Cityworks were a step ahead in managing these issues.

At Cityworks–Azteca Systems, we kept in close contact with our clients during the Polar Vortex and throughout the winter, and asked them to give us updates along the way. We asked a handful of users to share how winter weather conditions affected their communities, and how Cityworks helped sustain their communities throughout the crisis.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Comments by Alexandria Baszler, Cityworks System Administrator

In mid-January the Grand Rapids Public Services Department started to run out of space downtown to store the plowed snow, forcing them to haul the excess to parking lots and parks around the city. As the snow continued to accumulate, on-street parking became more congested, making it difficult to plow streets to their full width and preventing emergency vehicles from accessing certain corridors.

The department used Cityworks public-initiated snowplow requests to determine which streets had been missed by the plows. By comparing the snow plowing requests with other types of requests, like missed refuse or recycling, the department could see that the unplowed streets were preventing city service vehicles from accessing customers in those areas.

Based on the service requests and additional information provided by the police and fire departments, the city’s 311 Call Center was able to prepare various messages to alert residents of what actions to take in those areas. The city utilized the heat maps and clustered event layers in Cityworks to visually identify high priority areas that needed to be addressed in order to provide adequate street access for service and emergency vehicles.

During the two-week period of the Polar Vortex, we had 517 total ice and snow requests compared to 69 total requests in 2013—a 750% increase. The utilization of Cityworks provided an enhanced understanding of the compounded issues that arose as a result of the extreme weather.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Comments by Marion Storey, Information Services Director

Philadelphia experienced significantly more snowfall this winter than usual. We experienced 17 different events, whereas in a typical winter season we normally see 10, with a previous maximum of 12. There were over 4,400 requests for follow-up salting and plowing during the season. Over 20,000 pothole repairs were completed during the first quarter of 2014.

Cityworks managed the requests coming in from 311, Streets Department call takers, the Philadelphia 311 mobile app, the department’s website, and Twitter. We also used Cityworks to route pothole requests and track repairs. Cityworks allowed us to keep track of requests, close them out in a timely matter, and provide status updates to 311 and citizens about their requests.

The GIS-centric nature of Cityworks has been beneficial because it allows the requests to be routed to the correct unit based on the geographic responsibility and road classification. This was done using a map layer in Cityworks that indicated the snow route for each street and whether a street was maintained by the city or the state.

St. Johns County, Florida

Comments by Rocky Agbunag, Information Systems Coordinator

The 2014 winter season was the wettest St. Johns County has seen in 20 years. In previous years we would primarily work on preventive maintenance during the winter, but this year’s substantial wet weather caused a lot of storm drainage work activities we typically do not see. Our roadways showed more deterioration than usual due to the wet weather, including many more pothole repairs than in previous years. The higher number of drainage work orders increased the demand for equipment use, which led to increased maintenance and costs.

Using Cityworks to track service requests resulting from the rainfall assisted in identifying where the problem areas were and reallocating work activities accordingly. Cityworks helped us track the trends on work orders and the asset inventory definitely assisted in identifying what needed to be fixed. Additionally, the Cityworks budget tool has been very useful in analyzing our planned expenses versus actual expenditures.

Read Part 2: Michigan and Minnesota


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