While weather information is computer-based and dynamically maintained, South Dakota's road condition information is largely handled manually. Three times daily, maintenance supervisors verbally report their visual observations to a state radio dispatcher, who manually transcribes them and transmits them via Teletype. A seasonal employee of the Office of Operations Support reads and interprets the transcribed observations, and develops regional summaries of road conditions. After the regional summaries are keyed, they are relayed to media outlets via Teletype, e-mail, and Internet, and are recorded verbally for dissemination via regional phone numbers in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Rapid City. The summaries are also provided to the #SAFE system, but their regional resolution is not consistent with the location-specific resolution of #SAFE's weather information.
The manual nature of the road condition collection, analysis, and dissemination process imposes several operational limitations:
Due to the time involved in collecting, summarizing, and disseminating the information, it is old by the time it becomes available to the consumer.
Changing road conditions may outpace the temporal and spatial reporting frequency possible with the Department's existing workforce;
Because conditions are reported verbally, reporters' terminology and dispatchers' interpretation can vary;
The lack of a defined data structure and automated database frustrates analysis and dissemination and entirely precludes automated maintenance decision support;
The process of manual summarization causes loss of detail and location specificity, limiting the usefulness of the information;
Use of different source information can contribute to inconsistency among disseminated information products;
No mechanism exists for collecting and maintaining other operational information, such as construction activity, accidents, hazardous materials spills, or other incidents;
During emergency or large-scale events, workload may exceed staff's ability to consistently accomplish all of the manual steps needed to analyze and disseminate information;
Because information is lost when it is updated, analysis and improvement of its quality is difficult.
Research is needed to identify and develop better methods for reporting, managing, summarizing, and disseminating road condition information.