Improving public safety on Worcestershire’s roads
When extreme weather conditions occur in Worcestershire, the council’s highways maintenance team is prepared to help prevent road accidents and save lives. Using a new emergency GIS service, developed using Esri’s ArcGIS technology, it can react more quickly to emerging crises, while also helping to reduce its annual operational maintenance costs.
ArcGIS improves public safety by helping the council to quickly mobilise to the locations of greatest need
The web-based GIS is expected to deliver considerable cost savings from improved logistical and operational efficiencies
In emergency situations, the solution will improve collaboration between multiple agencies and facilitate coordinated responses
The primary role of the highways maintenance department at Worcestershire County Council is to improve public safety on the roads by maintaining the public highways. During periods of exceptional flooding, violent storms and heavy snowfall, its job becomes not only more difficult, but also more critical.
In one particularly bad flooding incident, the army was called upon to work alongside the council and other emergency services to help deliver sandbags and clear debris from roads. However, not everyone was familiar with the county and coordinating activities was a huge challenge. “It became obvious that we needed a single, web-based system for sharing highways information with multiple different agencies and making up-to-the minute information available to the general public in emergency situations,” recalls Elwyn Williams, Highway Maintenance Officer at Worcestershire County Council.
By enabling us to put out emergency signage or close a road more promptly, our ArcGIS app helps us to save lives
Elwyn Williams - Highway Maintenance Officer, Worcestershire County Council
The council had been using Esri’s ArcGIS platform as its enterprise geographic information system (GIS) for over 15 years and already had all of the software and skills it needed to build a solution for the highways maintenance department. Initially the prototype application was introduced within weeks; more data and solution enhancements were then added over subsequent months. “We deliberately adopted an agile development approach, so we could quickly start using the new GIS,” says Mark Smith, GIS Programme Coordinator at Worcestershire County Council. “ArcGIS gave us an ideal platform for rapid application development and enabled us to create a bespoke solution – for no additional cost other than our time.”
Named the Highways Maintenance Emergency GIS (HMEGIS), the solution brings together over 30 layers of data and, for the first time, makes them visible on interactive maps all in one place. Internal data such as emergency sign deployments, fallen trees, closed bridges, grit bin locations and high risk campsites is consolidated with data streamed from external sources, including live feeds from riverside webcams, maintenance vehicle locations, actual gritting routes, customised river warning levels and weather forecasts.
HMEGIS has a number of innovative features including an alert panel that scrolls across the top of the screen, so that all operatives can instantly see and react to the latest emergency situation. The solution also has a ‘rewind and replay’ tool that allows managers to look back at past emergencies and see, at a glance, which assets and resources were deployed where, and when.
ArcGIS gave us an ideal platform for rapid application development and enabled us to create a bespoke solution – for no additional cost other than our time
Mark Smith – GIS Programme Coordinator, Worcestershire County Council
Improved public and personnel safety
Worcestershire County Council now has a single system for recording incidents such as fallen trees, enabling it to co-ordinate a faster response. “We can send the most appropriate people, with the right equipment, to the locations of greatest need, so that situations can be dealt with properly and quickly,” says Elwyn. “By enabling us to put out emergency signage or close a road more promptly, our ArcGIS app helps us to save lives.”
Significant resource and cost savings
While each emergency situation is totally different, Worcestershire County Council will inevitably save money by using HMEGIS to: deploy the nearest vehicles to incidents; locate assets quickly; and avoid duplicating the work of other agencies. “At times when significant emergencies like floods or heavy snowfall occur, we estimate that our GIS app will help us to make considerable cost savings through improved logistical and operational efficiencies,” says Elwyn, while emphasising that, “The real benefits in terms of accidents avoided and lives saved cannot be financially quantified.”
Better multi-agency coordination
The ArcGIS app is now being introduced to partner organisations, starting with the Highways Agency. Eventually access will be extended to multiple third parties including district councils, the Environment Agency and the fire, police and ambulance services. “HMEGIS will make the same ‘here and now’ picture available to everyone,” predicts Elwyn. “We will be able to talk with confidence about the same location, avoid duplication and ensure we are all optimally deployed to minimise public risk in emergency scenarios.”
Continuous improvement of emergency plans
HMEGIS was originally designed as an operational tool, rather than a management tool. However it is proving invaluable to the council’s highways maintenance department and emergency planning team, who use it to inform the development of new emergency response strategies. Using the slider tool, employees can refer back to and learn from previous situations and use this knowledge to improve the council’s effectiveness in future incidents.
More efficient customer service
When members of the public phone the council, call centre agents can use HMEGIS to provide immediate feedback and up-to-the-minute information about road closures. Similarly, if the council receives a freedom of information request (such as how often was a specific bridge closed), employees can use the GIS slider tool to easily look back in time and respond promptly. In the future, the council plans to further improve its customer service by developing a public version of HMEGIS that will enable everyone to see the latest information about road closures online.