Winter storm preparation

Woodbury County engineer Mark Nahra holds a global positioning system unit intended for use in heavy equipment, on Feb. 19. The unit allows him to track where snowplows and other equipment are working.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Big winter storms dump more than heavy snow on Woodbury County. They also typically dump complaints about unplowed gravel roads on county officials.

Those complaints are likely to carry a lot less weight now that county vehicles are equipped with global positioning system devices. The newly acquired technology keeps a record of the fleet's whereabouts.

"It is an excellent way to verify, when somebody calls and says, 'We haven't seen a grader in six weeks.' You can go right to the GPS and say, "This is the date, this is the time that they were there,' " Woodbury County Board Chairman Larry Clausen said.

The Secondary Roads Department in late February got 47 GPS units for dump trucks, hauling trucks, trailers, sign trucks and motor graders that work on the county's 1,347 miles of roads.

GPS units receive signals from 24 satellites orbiting the globe. The satellites, each equipped with an atomic clock, transmit time and location information. The GPS receivers use that information to pinpoint latitude/longitude position.

That not only helps county officials with record-keeping, it's also an advantage for workers who are out on the roads.

Office personnel can readily monitor the locations of trucks, Woodbury County Engineer Mark Nahra said. If a driver gets stuck, it's easy to find the closest crew mate to send to the rescue.

And for rural residents worried about travel, he said, "We will be able to answer questions, 'When will the plow be coming by?'"

The county spent $16,000 to buy the GPS units and will pay Electronics Engineering of Sioux City a monthly maintenance fee of $1,400.

Nahra said adding GPS is the wave of the future. "More and more Iowa counties are looking at it."

Clausen said the county had been weighing the addition of GPS technology for some time.

"It has been talked about, off and on, for years. Mark just took the bull by the horns and just got the job done," he said.

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County and education reporter

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