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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
For its part, PowerLoc is now working on a personal location device (PLD) similar to a VLD.
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.