Ensure good data quality to successfully integrate weather alert system based upon Road Weather Information Systems.

Caltrans District 3 experience in implementing a weather alert notification system in a Regional Transportation Management Center

Date Posted

Implementation and Evaluation of the Sacramento Regional Transportation Management Center Weather Alert Notification System

Summary Information

The Caltrans District 3 Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC) implementation of a weather alert notification system was part of a Federal Highway Administration sponsored study of Traffic Management Center (TMC) weather integration strategies in support of operations. This system is expected to provide timely traveler and road weather information to the public, particularly regarding fog, wind, and frost conditions that can severely affect travel safety and mobility. An evaluation report presented the results and benefits achieved to date.

Lessons Learned

The success of the weather alert notification system depends on accurate and reliable weather data from the sensors, appropriately defined threshold conditions, clear communication of alerts to the operators, procedures in place that guide operator responses, and operating training and buy-in to assure effective use of the information. In the course of the implementation, the Caltrans District 3 Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC) met these criteria and the system performed as intended. Specific lessons pertaining to integration include:

  • Test and demonstrate data quality early in the implementation process to build operator confidence in the alert system. A critical task early in the process was to engage a contractor to calibrate the RTMC's field sensors. In the baseline period, the operators reported having little confidence in the data they were receiving from the sensors. After sensor recalibration and implementation of the alert notification system, operator confidence improved, though there remained some carryover of the perception that these data were still suspect. Operator training can help overcome such skepticism by explaining clearly what has been done to improve the data quality in the system and providing evidence that shows these improvements.
  • Remain flexible and responsive throughout the demonstration period to understand where the alert system can be fine-tuned and improved. For example, adding new strategically located sensors, upgrading the weather detection capabilities of the sensors, adding better detecting and notification of the end of the a weather event, adding possible visual and auditory notification in the RTMC, and refining procedures have all been identified as candidate improvements during the course of the demonstration. Another example is in the increased use of the TMC logs. New procedures have emphasized the importance of making log entries that document and explain the actions operators have taken in response to receipt of the alerts, and the operators' logging performance has improved over this period.
  • Anticipate how time and resource constraints affect the performance of an alert notification system. The State of California is experiencing a severe economic downturn that has reduced staffing levels, making it difficult to integrate the weather alert notification system into TMC operations. TMC Management also was constrained by procedural requirements associated with the implementation of new projects. Several planned activities, such as installing new Road Weather Information System sites and developing a more sophisticated alert system, were not accomplished due to funding or time constraints. These constraints need to be anticipated and understood when implementing new systems and contingency plans developed to overcome them.

The operators valued the warnings and alerts that were available to them, though they felt it necessary to verify their accuracy before taking any actions based on them. Overall, operators report that the automated alert system has made them more aware and allowed them to be more responsive to events as they unfold, thus providing the traveling public with enhanced mobility and safety during periods of inclement weather and dangerous road conditions.

This lesson suggests that testing and recalibrating field sensors to demonstrate data quality should be an integral first step in the implementation plan for future weather alert notification systems. Project managers should also remain flexible about fine tuning the system during implementation and recognize that resource constraints may limit the scope of the system's upgrades and full integration.