GPS ON THE JOB IN MASSIVE WORLD TRADE CENTER CLEAN-UP
Jul 1, 2002 12:00 PM
By JACQUELINE EMIGH
Access Control & Security Systems
In late September of 2001, only weeks after the World Trade Center disaster, officials uncovered a criminal scheme to divert sheet metal beams from the Ground Zero rubble to Long Island and New Jersey. In late October, some 250 tons of scrap metal were found at unofficial dump sites in both those areas.
On November 26, the city initiated use of an in-vehicle GPS tracking system to monitor locations of trucks hired to haul the debris to Fresh Kills, the official dump site on Staten Island.
By then, FEMA and the City of New York were already looking hard for ways to improve work efficiencies at Ground Zero and ease traffic jams around the area.
“Staging the trucks, signaling them into load zones in Ground Zero and out of it was a major operation handled by the (trucking) contracting companies under the watchful eye of the Department of Design and Construction-New York City (DDC-NYC). Recovery of human remains and evidence introduced another level of complexity. Occasionally, all work stopped for recovery, changing routes and playing havoc with traffic,” says Yoram Shalmon, director of product management for PowerLoc Technologies, Toronto, Ontario, a subcontractor on the project.
In the weeks before launching the GPS system, the city relied on a paper-based system for tracking traffic and loading data. Police and several other agencies teamed up to monitor the trucks on their routes between Ground Zero through 20 to 30 miles of tunnels, bridges and highways to the dump on Staten Island.
All outbound trucks needed to be washed, wetted, and covered to prevent dust from flying into surrounding neighborhoods. Steel beams from the WTC’s twin towers had to be sliced into manageable pieces. “With plenty of heavy equipment and overtime, the costs of the recovery operation became extremely high,” Shalmon says.
To get a GPS truck-monitoring system rolling right away, DDC-NYC and the New York Port Authority (NYPA) quickly identified several possible suppliers, viewed presentations from the candidates, and sent out a request for proposal.
In the end, the contract went to IDC-Criticom, a large alarm system wholesaler based in Minneapolis, and its two subcontractors: GPS hardware maker PowerLoc; and implementation specialist Mobile Installation Technologies (MIT) of Marietta, Ga.
Within three weeks, the system elements were in place, and nearly 200 trucks in New York City were being tracked in real time. Installed by MIT with assistance from PowerLoc and four trucking contractors, the solution revolved around PowerLoc’s Vehicle Location Device (VLD). Each VLD unit costs about $1,000.
VLD uses GPS antennas to monitor location, cellular wireless antennas to communicate, and multiple I/Os to track vehicle signals from engine systems, for instance. Signals are bounced to one of 24 GPS satellites, which in turn send the latitude and longitude of the truck back to the VLD.
In the WTC implementation, GPS information was then transmitted via Cingular’s Mobitex Data Network to a 24-hour call center operated by IDC-Criticom. By running in a different frequency range from cell phones, Mobitex was able to provide sufficient wireless bandwidth.
Cellular access was in short supply in the Ground Zero vicinity because of high demand. Many services from Verizon, including basic telephone service, were down for six weeks or more, as a result of damage to cabling and other phone company equipment. PowerLoc’s VLD also supports other wireless networks, however, including GSM and Cellemetry.
“PowerLoc’s ability to rapidly customize its software application was a significant help in getting the contract,” notes Ray Menard, senior vice president of development for IDC-Criticom. The software recorded every trip and location, sending out alerts if the vehicle traveled off course, arrived late at its destination, or deviated from expectations in any other way. The customized application also included report generation tools that let DDC-NYC analyze efficiency, adjust and shift resources, and compare fleet and vehicle performance.
“Geofenced zones,” connected by “geofenced corridors,” were set up around Ground Zero and the other sites. By tracking the trucks, officials were also able to monitor the actions of the drivers.
“We were able to start identifying patterns of behavior. If a driver arrived late, the traffic analyst would look at why. Maybe the driver stopped for lunch, or maybe he ran into traffic,” Shalmon says.
“Ninety-nine percent of the drivers were extremely driven to do their jobs. But there were big concerns, because the loads consisted of highly sensitive material. One driver, for example, took an extended lunch break of an hour and a half. There was nothing criminal about that, but he was dismissed. There were also cases where trucks did little detours from their routes,” Shalmon says.
“Although the loads of steel stolen in September were recovered, the spectre of other abuses was raised,” recalls IDC-Criticom’s Menard. “If a truck left the area, we dispatched the City of New York, which was working with seven different municipal, state and federal police forces.”
Analysis of the GPS results led to a number of changes in trucking operations, widely credited with cutting costs and accelerating the clean-up. “Within 24 hours, the city began to make changes,” says Greg Schnute, executive vice president at MIT. Instead of hauling debris directly, trucks began moving it to two piers in Manhattan, for transmission by barge and tugboat first to a staging area in Brooklyn, and then from Brooklyn to Fresh Kills.
Consequently, the number of loads per truck rose from four to 10, representing a 250 percent improvement. Needing fewer trucks per shift, the city cut the number of trucking contractors from four to one.
The numbers of checkpoints and human auditors diminished, likewise. Moreover, by eliminating unnecessary traffic at Ground Zero, officials gained further efficiencies, reducing vehicle wash station cycles by 33 percent.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of IDC-Criticom and its two subcontractors, a clean-up originally projected to last until September was completed in May. Defying previous estimates of $7 billion, the total clean-up bill ran to just $750 million. “We found out how fast we could act,” Schnute says. “It made us all proud to be Americans.”
For its part, PowerLoc is now working on a personal location device (PLD) similar to a VLD.
At this point, most GPS devices rely on cellular technology for communications with a satellite base station. “That’s because of the size and power of the GPS battery that would otherwise be required. But there will come a time when more portable devices communicate directly with satellites,” Shalmon predicts.
Meanwhile, PowerLoc is discussing its PLD with various departments in the City of New York. “The city might want to be able to track police and firemen, for instance. There may be situations where public safety workers are in distress, but unable to use a cell phone,” Shalmon explains.