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Montgomery County Will Add GPS To Battle Snow

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Instead of expensive tracking systems, Montgomery County plows may be guided by TomTom GPS units.
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Instead of expensive tracking systems, Montgomery County plows may be guided by TomTom GPS units.

The D.C. area saw the first appearance of snow this season over the weekend, which served as a reminder: removing snow is often a costly business. Montgomery County has already implemented GPS tracking of its plows for residents, and this year, it's putting those GPS systems inside the cabs of trucks to lend a hand to drivers as well. 

Storms can be devastating, especially when hours lost at businesses when they have to close because of snow are factored in, says Keith Compton, who's the head of the Montgomery County's snow removal team. "The one-day major snowstorm -- one day -- can cost the state $300 to $700 million," says Compton. "We are the largest county in the state, so we are going to bear the lion's share of that $300 to $700 million."

Removing snow is just as much about technology as it is economics. County executive Isiah Leggett says there are few departments that constantly upgrade the technology they use more than the snow removal team. Last year, a website was launched that showed what streets had been cleared, and when it was wrong, Leggett heard about it.

"My telephone number is listed," says Leggett. "And if there's a problem, people didn't have to call 311, or go through my office in Rockville, they could and did call me directly at home."

But even with some of the glitches, Leggett calls the website a success, saying he received far more calls at home the previous year than last year.  This year's improvement is somewhat low-tech in comparison. Plows will have GPS devices made by TomTom, just like those sold in stores, programmed with each of the 217 snow plow routes, meaning all drivers will have to do is punch in the specific route number and just follow the voice commands. 

Keith Compton, the head of the county's snow removal team, says the 300 or so TomToms were far less expensive than the automated vehicle locator (AVL) system they contemplated buying: "These things are about $250 a piece," Compton says. "A full-blown AVL system is about $800,000."

Compton adds they are trying the automated system on a limited basis this year.  It allows the command center to see where plows have been, but more importanly, says Compton, the devices show plow drivers where they need to go.

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