T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

Go Ahead. Rain on My Parade: Best Practices for Developing an Integrated and Effective Road Weather Information System (RWIS) (October 13, 2009)

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Q. Questions for Dave — In defining stakeholder needs, did you talk with your traffic operations folks? What type of needs did they have?
A. David Van Stensel:  Well, they were invited to the meeting. I would have to say they didn't provide the majority of the questions. Most of them were questions regarding "can we get this information," and then they were providing comments such as, "These are the pieces of information that I would like to be given." So they wanted information, if we were co-locating, about the temperature and wind speed. They'd want that data along with any traffic data that we had recorded at the site, but they really didn't have a ton of questions, and we invited all the traffic operations people out of the nine counties. We had an extensive list. So they were engaged, and they just said, "Great, we'll take as much information as you can give us." In one case, they were looking like they wanted to share some electricity and communication with us. So hopefully that answers the question.
Q.  What traffic management strategies are specifically tied to weather?
A. David Van Stensel:  One of the things that we did in our ConOps [Concept of Operations] was we went through a bunch of scenarios. So one of our scenarios was a blizzard that had caused two trucks to jackknife and close down I-94, hypothetically. Everything was hypothetically; it was actually based on a real incident. Knowing that weather information is going to allow us to respond accordingly, because the weather in our different maintenance areas is different. In Michigan, we've got a westerly wind that will blow snow disproportionately on the west side of the state versus the east side of the state, and the depth will typically decrease as you go across the state to the east and the lower portion of the mitt, and then the upper portion of the mitt has a completely different weather system as well; you've got two different lakes with different elevations. So for us, we just need to know how much snow has fallen, what the pavement temperature is for these different maintenance scenarios. The treatment is going to be different, whether or not we're going to come in there with salt; maybe the temperature is such where salt's not a good idea. So the other thing, as Dawn alluded to, is how we co-locate devices. If we're dropping in the power and communications for an environmental sensing station, you saw in Dawn's pictures, you can also see that she had cameras. If you've got cameras and you've got some kind of an emergency, well, that's going to allow you to see what you're dealing with. You may see potentially the extent of the backup, or if you've got that camera and it's some kind of noxious gas, you may actually be able to see what you're dealing with as far as casualties as well. So as far as different incidences are concerned, RWISs and ESS are definitely a boon for us.
Q.  Who is involved in the Southwestern Michigan traffic incident management group?
A. David Van Stensel:  Traffic incident management in our region is typically handled by the maintenance folk. We've got a region maintenance person that takes care of incidences, and we also have garages that respond to those incidences as well. Each transportation service center also has a traffic engineer, and they may help with some of the emergency detour routing as well as myself. I'm in charge mainly of the closures, the extent that those closures can be allowed. In some cases, you don't have a choice, but also where we're going to route traffic, and making sure that the routes that we route them on are not involving bridges with load limits that are going to crash if a truck goes on it. So lots of people, but maintenance and traffic both typically get involved in our incident response, and we coordinate with our other stakeholders, the police and fire department, as well as the locals, because we have to run our traffic often on the local routes as well.
Q.  Question for Scott — In developing ConOps, how did you consider "networking" weather information from multiple agencies (instead of single owners) — how that could / should be accomplished? Did you discuss standards, software, and uses of data?
A. Scott Greene:  With reference to how the data might be different coming from a different-- like FAA or...?
Morrie Hoevel: That's what it sounds like, yeah.
Scott Greene: Yeah. We discussed a little bit. I think Mike Adams has a little bit more information regarding that, but we discussed it with NOAA too. How they get that information, it can be transformed into a more uniform, viewable data than what-- but we didn't really discuss that a whole heck of a lot. Dave might actually have a little more detail on that.
David Van Stensel: Actually, one of the things that has been discussed with some other agencies is the standardization of weather information, and a good reference for that is the road weather information systems environmental sensing station siting guidelines version 2.0, the reference that we made that's on the FHWA's website. If you go on the back, there's actually an appendix called "Critical ESS Metadata." ESS is the environmental sensing station, again, and metadata is just data about data. That's going to give you different field names that are going to be part of the output of the environmental sensing station as well as the data type, whether that data type is a negative or a positive number, how many decimals it's got. So it basically standardizes all that information, and if you have standardized information, then you can use something such as an ATMS to take that information, and to plug it into whatever specialized software your agency may have. So making sure we standardize is critical, as we're sharing data.
Comment: FYI, the Clarus System url is www.clarus-system.com .
Comment: Ohio mitigated some of those costs by re-designing our system to use a combination of wind/solar.
Q.  Dawn — How are costs for shared assets distributed between entities? Based on what criteria? What type of agreement is used?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  Currently, we are only sharing within the Michigan Department of Transportation. So as of right now, it's more within our agency. So we don't have to have any inter-agency agreements. We are starting to get where we are looking at agreements with other agencies, but we're in the early development stages of that.
Q.  Why is there no mention of hiring a professional meteorological consultant with experience in all aspects of RWIS implementation to assist and advise such an effort?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  In the Superior Region, when we did our concept of operations, we really weren't sure what we were getting into, and we did not have it set up to go into that detail of each site. When we moved into the actual development of the site, so after we kind of had our selection, like Dave got, of where he thought the sites would go, that's when we went in and did the full review. So that was actually done during the design phase, and we actually moved some of our sites around a little bit after that input. But as the guys had mentioned, it's better done up front in the concept of operations. So they may be able to speak on their part of it.
David Van Stensel: I can say that we had a meteorologist that covered the southwest portion of Michigan in our architecture and deployment meetings, and he helped us locate the areas where he thought we would best be served to place an environmental sensing station based on his opinion of we could get some better forecasting potential. A second meteorologist from NOAA also came from the Grand Rapids office, and she was involved in helping us run through some of the scenarios about how we would utilize this system. She was actually very helpful. She was the next media person, so she helped us out significantly. Another thing we had in coming up with the concept of operations is employing, as Scott has just pointed out to me, we had SRS, was a consultant that had a meteorologist that helped us put together the concept of operations as well. So those might have been just overlooked, but we really did pull in meteorologists. They are the best people to have as you're developing these RWISs, because they know more about weather than any of us.
Q.  Who is the manufacture for RWIS tower and all the sensors?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  There are multiple, actually, that we have here in the Upper Peninsula (UP). We have some SSI equipment; we have Campbell Scientific Equipment; we have one or two Vaisala pieces. There's a few Vaisala pieces downstate. It's pretty varied. Usually what'll happen is the contractor, the construction contractor, will bid the job, and they will purchase the equipment that meets the specifications, and our SP is written such that any of those vendors could provide equipment.
Q.  To Dawn: Have you taken advantage of rest areas for ESS that have easier access to power & the ability to maintain?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  Yes. Most of our rest areas in the UP, a lot of them do not have power. But we do have one that's being commissioned I believe this week or next week that is part of the Seney rest area. It's right out in front of the rest area, and the power is running on the same line that the building's on. There was obviously no communication in the rest area, because we don't have communication in our buildings either, but yes, that would be an opportunity to share the communication at a later date also, if we decided to put a kiosk or something similar within the rest area.
Q.  How/Where can we get a copy of the ConOps?
A. David Van Stensel:  If someone wants to send me an email—my information was on the PowerPoint—I could just email it to them if they want to send me their contact information. It's a PDF, so it's not that huge. It doesn't have to be that complicated, and it really isn't. We've got probably about 50 pages.
Morrie Hoevel: That was David Van Stensel. So if anybody wants to get a copy of our ConOps, give him an email and he'll provide it to you.
Q.  Is anyone sharing information with National Weather Service right now?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  Yes, we are, Morrie. In fact, I ran into the guys here about a month ago, and they thanked me again. They told me they get into it on about a daily basis. They get in and look at our information. It provides them a supplement to one of their other systems. They use multiple systems as they're doing their work, and they will pull up our data too and compare the two side by side, and it'll offer supplemental information to theirs.
Michael Adams: We're also sharing data, and they find it very valuable in terms of looking at surface temperatures and trying to decide whether they want to put out a freezing rain advisory, things like that. So the partnership is well worth the while on both sides.
Q.  To Dawn: What is the average cell phone cost per site?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  Cell phone cost per site is about 42 dollars a month with unlimited data transfer.
Q.  What benefits did you realize for your RWIS / ESS deployment in the summer time?
A. Michael Adams:  Well, we actually don't use it a lot in the summertime, but there certainly are benefits that can be realized, because a lot of the operations in the summertime depend on surface temperature, things like striping, and sometimes even asphalt, things like that. You can also use the other aspects of RWIS, like your radar imagery and forecast information, in scheduling crews for paving operations and things like that. There's a lot of development work going on at the current time to develop a decision support system that involves weather for these types of operations.
David Van Stensel: I know from an incident management standpoint, it's also good if you have some kind of toxic spill or a nuclear event. It can help with the forecasting and evacuation to know how fast the wind's going and in what direction. I know it sounds morbid, but that's something that can be thrown into some of these models. Also, if you go to the website, it's nice to know what the temperature is at the beach. So there are all sorts of fun uses in the summer for it.
Dawn Gustafson: I know the Mackinaw Bridge Authority has used the wind data, which is still more in the winter, but on the shoulder seasons also, they will use the wind data to help predict what the gusts will be on the bridge.
Q.  We are considering a local RWIS to be able to know conditions of bridge deck. Where would be a good start point?
A. David Van Stensel:  I can answer part of that question. I know Dawn's got the Cut River Bridge too, but one of the things that I've heard is being used very successfully is the environmental sensing station meshed with an anti-icing system, and the crash reductions that were gained were enormous because of specific issues with the river. So connecting that to an anti-icing system is very helpful in some cases.
Dawn Gustafson: That's right, Dave. We don't actually have any anti-icing systems similar to like a freeze-free system or something that you can buy. We do not have any of those with MIDOT in the Superior Region. I know we have some downstate; I believe Metro Region has one. Then, like you said, linking your ESS data to that system.
Q.  Dawn — What is the average estimated cost of a mini-RWIS?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  We're not exactly sure on that yet, but we're shooting for something around 30 thousand dollars.
Q.  Does anyone post weather information on DMS or HAR?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  Yes, we have on portable DMSs, and we will on our new permanent DMSs that we're installing this fall.
David Van Stensel: Doesn't your Mackinaw Bridge HAR also let you know what temperature it is, Dawn?
Dawn Gustafson: Yes, and it'll give you conditions, what type of road weather to expect up ahead as you get into the UP.
Q.  What about pro-active traffic management strategies in advance of severe weather? Is MIDOT doing anything like that?
A. David Van Stensel:  One of the things that we do in MIDOT is something called "prewetting." If the road is the right temperature, you can put down like a brine solution, so when the snow hits, it melts right away. Depending on the condition, if you know the pavement temperature and the weather that's coming ahead, that can save a lot of material and time.
Michael Adams: In Wisconsin, we do a lot of anti-icing based on the road weather forecast for the next 24 to 48 hours also, and we've started having conference calls between the operations folks and National Weather Service in advance of what could be bigger events just so we have an idea in our own heads exactly what's going to happen, where it's going to hit, and start during those conference calls considering alternative actions should they be necessary.
Q.  The next two questions are similar: How does Michigan maintain their RWIS system (internal staff, OEM, electrical contractor or other)? — AND — Any experience with either continued vendor support such as vendor provided maintenance after warranty period expires, or complete vendor owned, operated and maintained systems, such as leasing the entire system from the vendor and just receiving compiled data from vendors?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  We started out using the vendor under our maintenance warranty agreement with the vendor, and we had an annual maintenance contract. Now we're moving, as we have several contracts statewide, and those are few—I think there are three of them—and those will now take over our maintenance. But our electrician has also done some work. Even our maintenance guys have cleaned lenses or do whatever we need to do with keep the system running.
Michael Adams: In Wisconsin, we're totally vendor-supplied. It happens that the vendor, which is SSI, which installed the system, is also the contractor maintaining it, although we do bid that out every several years.
Dawn Gustafson: I think in depends on how many sensors you actually have and what you're trying to take care of, because as we've moved from one to upwards of about 16 now this winter across the UP, as you get more, you have to go towards what Mike has said. Well, you don't have to, but you do if you're not staffed appropriately.
Michael Adams: Yeah, that's the biggest that we've had internally. We would love to have maintenance performed by our own folks, but there are just no positions available to be able to do that, and when we looked within the traffic section or the electrical section to do that, we realized that RWIS is not going to get the priority over things like signals. So in the long run, we decided it's just more effective to bid it out.
Q.  How do you access the sensors for maintenance via bucket truck or lowering of the structure? Also, what costs have been associated with the preventative maintenance of the sensors & structure?
A. Dawn Gustafson:  All of our towers in the UP are tilt-down towers. So you open the gate; there's a chain-link gate around most all of them but one, and you open the gate. The tower actually tilts down into that opening then where the gate swings open, and all the sensors are reachable without a bucket truck, or most of them without a ladder. Some of them you need a real short ladder to get up to them.
David Van Stensel: You just have to make sure the gate's on the right side of the fence.
Dawn Gustafson: Exactly. That's a very good construction point for the field people. The cost of it, I guess I can't really put a number on it right now. Since it's performed in that manner, your biggest cost is if you don't have somebody local doing is, is probably getting them there. The TM is mainly just wiping off lenses and making sure all the sensors are reading appropriately. Then if you find a sensor that's bad, then you're out of the TM anyway. So really, the TM cost, it's more the cost of getting somebody to your site to look at it.
Q.  How are Michigan and Wisconsin using MDSS technology in conjunction with RWIS information?
A. Michael Adams:  Well, this is Mike. I guess I'll take this one. We are just getting into the MDSS arena this year. We're going to deploy it along an interstate corridor that runs basically southeast to northwest across the state. We have one county that'll be using GPS AVL in conjunction with that, which we feel is a pretty critical component, and we'll slowly be building that out over the next couple of years.
Dawn Gustafson: We are not currently using MDSS in the UP at all.
Scott Greene: We're just starting to look into a little bit of that now, not just through our concept of operations, but just as Federal Highway Administration and NHI have been putting up some courses, we've been kind of investigating that. I can't speak for our maintenance supervisor down in our region, but we are starting to investigate that a little bit more, and how RWIS tech should play into it.
Q.  Have the standards such as TMDD addressed the requirements of operating a RWIS?
A. Michael Adams:  The TMDD — I think there might be some work going on in that area. What has been done in the past several years is making sure that RWIS has an NTCIP standard for communication. Right now, that standard has addressed the tower-to-center communication, and I believe there's some effort underway to address center-to-center communication on that.
Comment: In Florida, it has been our experience that the fold down aluminum towers do not meet the wind loading requirements. We are using concrete poles instead which require a bucket truck.

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