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Snowstorm serving as a beta test for Elgin’s internal social network

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Updated: January 22, 2013 6:28AM



ELGIN — Assuming a Mayan apocalypse of some sort doesn’t happen, the Thursday into Friday snowstorm was serving as an in-the-field beta test of the internal social network for the city, and its snow command in particular.

Early Thursday afternoon, city management analyst and project manager Dan Ault demonstrated how the cloud system — called Chatter — was being used in battling the first snowstorm of the season.

On big monitors in the command center at the city’s public works building, the setup looked a bit like Facebook, with those logged in able to post status updates, files, photos, links and even take a poll.

The app available for Smartphones allows users to post directly to the site, Ault said. Chatter also has setups for desktop, laptop and tablet computers.

As Ault pointed out, Chatter allows all those logged into the internal network to simultaneously have access to the same information. It also has functions similar to Twitter, offering short bursts of information to phones and other devices that link into bigger posts. And users can send instant messages to each other on an individual basis.

Eventually, Chatter will be part of the city’s in-the-works 311 phone system. Using a snow event as an example, Ault said that if a resident calls with a complaint about his street not being plowed, the information would be put into the Chatter mix and given its own tracking number.

Thus, snow command would all know about it, and then post into the system how the problem has been addressed, perhaps even with a picture sent in to show the street has been cleared.

The Chatter feed also could be monitored by a city worker who would use it to post on the city’s web page to keep the public aware of conditions and how they are being addressed.

Getting involved

For the beta test, Ault said that about three dozen snow command personnel would be involved, including public works staff, police and one or two members of the fire department. Down the road, outside contractors might be allowed into the cloud, too, Ault said.

Interim public services director Dan Rich supplied examples of the type of information that would be found in a Chatter feed, including storm predictions from two weather services and an 11 a.m. update from Public Works Supervisor Tom Migatz.

That updated forecast had rain continuing until 4 p.m. before changing over to snow after 5 p.m.

“Temperatures are expected to hover slightly above freezing until 11 p.m. making this a wet snow totaling 3-6 inches before ending Friday morning. Falling temperatures, gusting winds, and wet conditions will contribute to icing and blowing snow before conditions clear late Friday night,” the memo noted.

A total of 23 plow drives were to report to the public works building by 5 p.m. with an equal number of driver coming in to relieve the earlier crew at 4 a.m. Friday. Additional drivers were scheduled to clear snow from neighborhoods with odd/even parking restrictions on Saturday if necessary.

And to give a feel for Chatter and for what was going on during the storm, staff said they would be providing The Courier-News periodic updates throughout their effort. Those will be posted on The Courier-News website before midnight, early Friday morning and more frequently if necessary.

Tollway update

Like Elgin, the Illinois Tollway Authority also said it would be making use of the Web to inform drivers of conditions.

According to a press release, the Illinois Tollway’s Traffic and Incident Management System (TIMS) “provides real-time travel times and roadway conditions via the Illinois Tollway’s website, www.illinoistollway.com, and on over-the-road electronic message signs throughout the Tollway.”

Drivers also can call *999 from their mobile phones to request assistance or report stranded vehicles, using the roadway, direction of travel, and nearest milepost or crossroad to seek help.

The release noted that drivers also can sign up for Tollway Tweets at www.twitter.com or from the Tollway’s website at www.illinoistollway.com to receive real-time information about roadway incidents, including the type of incident, location and impact on traffic to assist drivers in planning their trips.

Tweeters can follow all four Tollway Trips or just the roadways that interest them. The four are Tollway Trip 90, Tollway Trip 94/294, Tollway Trip 88 and Tollway Trip 355.

The Tollway also operates a toll-free telephone line to keep people updated about weather conditions impacting its roadways. That number — 1-800-TOLL-FYI (1-800-865-5394) — offers recorded information that is updated every two hours or as conditions require during winter storms.

The Illinois Tollway was mobilizing its full fleet of 182 snowplows in preparation for the first major snow event of the season which would impact travel on the 286-mile system of roads traversing 12 counties in northern Illinois.



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