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Seward Hwy. to get avalanche monitor system

Posted: March 18, 2012 - 9:36pm

The Alaska Department of Transportation will be installing a new avalanche monitoring system near Seward this summer in hopes the new technology can later be implemented around the state.

Matt Murphy, DOT avalanche forecaster for the Seward Highway, said last week DOT staff hope to have a real time avalanche monitoring system installed at Mile 21 of the Seward Highway to help manage the area’s avalanches. Such management has proven tricky in the past, he said.

The technology will be new to Alaska, but it is being used in other states like Utah to help with avalanche mitigation, safety, slide-path management and emergency response.

“It is state of the art in the avalanche industry,” Murphy said.

The about $400,000 project is being funded by the Federal Highways Administration. Costs are preliminary, Murphy said.

“I am really hoping that we are going to like this technology and I would love to have it at all of the areas that affect the highways ... and it would be a huge benefit for me to have more information on when avalanches occur,” Murphy said.

Avalanche paths exist all along the Seward Highway from mileposts 18 to 107. Murphy’s office, he said, is located near Girdwood and that makes management of the Mile 21 slide path difficult. Mile 21 is south of Crown Point and north of Primrose near the IRBI Knife Shop next to Kenai Lake.

DOT staff regularly uses artillery to blast the area as part of regular mitigation efforts. But picking the right time to blast an area can be difficult, Murphy said.

“Most of the time that area is obscured with clouds so it is hard to track it,” he said. “We don’t do as good of a job managing that area as we do other areas. This technology will allow us to keep our finger on the pulse of avalanche activity down there so that we will be able to pick more pertinent times to go and shoot.”

The technology is able to sense and hear the sound of avalanches in real time. The device will be able to map the location of the slide and send an alert message to officials indicating its location and severity, Murphy said.

“When an earthquake happens, geologists are able to pinpoint where the epicenter happened and in some ways this will allow us to pinpoint where and when an avalanche has occurred,” Murphy said.

Avalanches in the area aren’t highly frequent, but they have high consequences, Murphy said. During the winter, the area will see a number of smaller avalanches that stop well above the highway’s elevation. Larger events can shut the road down for several hours at a time, posing a threat to life and safety, Murphy said.

The technology will hopefully boost response time in the event of an emergency.

“Say for example an avalanche happens at 3 a.m., well I’ll get an email that alerts me and wakes me up letting me know what happened and giving me a sense of what the magnitude was,” Murphy said.

DOT Maintenance and Operations Specialist Burrell Nickeson said DOT officials wanted to have the project completed last summer, but weren’t able to get to it. Staff is currently completing permitting work, he said.

The system will likely consist of an electronic data logger attached to a post with five or six sensors spread out from the base either buried underground or resting above ground. DOT will consider area wildlife and habitat before placement, Nickeson said.

Future maintenance of the system should be minimal, he said.

“We’ll have to work out the bugs initially in the first couple of years, but I think the idea is to set it and forget it in the winter,” Nickeson said.

 

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Jerry
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Jerry 03/19/12 - 10:53 am
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We already have an avalanche

We already have an avalanche system, it happens when the snow comes crashing down, one knows that an avalanche has happened & it's free.

Why should we spend time & money trying to warn people of coming troubles in ANY AREA, when they will not listen?
Use that $400,000 for helping poverty in Alaska.
We humans sure know how to waste time & money on things that people will ignore, don't we?

justamom
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justamom 03/20/12 - 11:12 am
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I agree

I like the systems we have now. Radio, word of mouth, AND best of all, 511.alaska.gov. Save the money and put it towards the kids of the Kenai Peninsula and school programs. Better yet, build a teen center with it.

JOAT
490
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JOAT 03/20/12 - 07:25 pm
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Total waste of our money

Another great example of why we need to rein in the Federal gov't spending. These kinds of ludicrous projects are the last thing that we need to be wasting our tax money on right now. It's laughable how on the one hand the gov't is calling for increasing taxes to pay for the government and on the other hand they continue to spend like drunken sailors on liberty weekend.

We already have an avalanche detection system in place and it works very well. They are called DOT maintenance employees and Alaska State Troopers. They drive the highway daily. Their job is to look for road hazards. When they see an avalanche, they report it and get the ball rolling on snow removal equipment to get it cleared out. When an average driver sees an avalanche, they report it. With the amount of traffic, there's little chance than an avalanche will go unreported for more than 5-10 minutes.

I say we should call our Congress-folks and tell them, "if we wanted an avalanche warning system in Alaska, we'd build it ourselves!", now cancel the project and refund that tax money back to the people who have to pay $4.72 for a gallon of gas!

jg
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jg 03/22/12 - 10:20 am
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This is GREAT!

All previous comments try to show parallels between this amazing technology/project and Medicare or FarmBill types of programs. Wouldn't you rather have federal dollars coming to the area to provide a safety net for travellers, as well as speed up the response time to a potential vehicle that is buried? Not to mention a few jobs that will be created or maintained during the construction phase...

Since realism is out the window, lets use hypotheticals at this point. Lets say you are driving down the Hwy after 10pm, and there is a fresh avalanche in your way. You turn around, and another one crosses the road a half-mile down. You are essentially stuck, with the possibility of one crashing down upon you (if you are in a path). Would you rather sit there with your thumb somewhere stinky, or would you be relieved that a few miles down the road, DOT crews were mobilizing their heavy equipment to come to your aid?

Your ability to curse the government for spending pennies in the pot ($400,000 is less than $1 per AK resident, one time) is astounding. Apparently you each have lost touch.

And where would you even put a Teen Center? Not that it is a bad idea, but try to imagine gaining funding for a teen center through an Federal Highway program. Good luck!

Jerry
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Jerry 03/22/12 - 11:30 am
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jg i have found in my 60

jg i have found in my 60 short yrs that if one can restrict any supposed free money from the Fed govt. then one has also restricted that Fed govts desire to control other areas of the state.
What a sad picture of some poor Very unlucky person, family or friends being caught between two avalances and strickened with fear of another, possible third one coming down & getting them, especially when allmost every car has at leaste one cell phone per person over the age of 14 in the auto.
But in the words of Forrest Ghump, "Stuff happens," and this discribed situation could happen to very, very unluck people.

If it's ok with you i'll stick with the free notification system we now have & try & restrict any chance of govt. control freaks getting a way in to control OUR state more than they already do.
Not wanting to sound hateful or nasty here to you & your opinion, of which i really do appreciate you expressing, i just don't want, in my opinion, stupid stuff like this & wasted money for it being accepted in Alaska, especially with all the access to help or rescue world wide from electronic devises.

jg
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jg 03/22/12 - 01:08 pm
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how much is one life worth?

I don't feel as though your comments are hateful or nasty, i like to hear differing opinions! With that comes my own perception though, which I do not claim is any more valid than yours.

One misconception is that there is cell service in all areas of the road corridor being affected by avalanches. Reception is spotty along Turnagain Arm, Portage Valley road, Turnagain Pass, Summit Lake, and between Moose Pass and Seward, as well as toward Cooper Landing. Many of these areas could benefit from instant notification, as the forecasters could then look at the remotely accessible weather stations in the area to determine correlations for future instabilities, therefore providing for more accurate "windows of opportunity" to mitigate the avalanche hazard.

The steeper the valleys are, the more difficult it is to get service, which is almost a paradox since these areas need service the most in the event of the hypothetical mentioned above. Plus, cell batteries die and not everybody carries a car charger. At $20 a pop, it would only take 20,000 cars with them to pay a similar amount that the detection system would cost. That many cars can travel through avalanche terrain accessed by the highway in a week, if not in a day or two. Those funds for car chargers can go directly from domestic pockets into the hands of large, international companies only in the market for profit, with no regard to worker or American Consumer safety.

Jerry
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Jerry 03/22/12 - 02:40 pm
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Did any wonder why this was

Did any wonder why this was not known before hand about the intent to waste money like this?
As the article states, it's an already done deal & will be done, so it really does not matter what We The People want, govt. officials have already decided.

I wonder whats next with these throwing of money away schemes like this one, or the one in Florida, where they had tunnels built for turtles that wanted to cross the highway?
And no they did not work as the turtles went down the road & crossed the highway and got ran over inspite of their multi million dollar little turtle tunnels.

This kind of absolute waste happens every yr in the pretence of providing jobs for people, when in fact it drives OUR nation deeper in debt.

Can ya believe it, 7 posts and no mean spirited Trolls yet, wanna bet i just jinked it??

JOAT
490
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JOAT 03/23/12 - 12:54 am
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Why this is a waste

This "magic device" consists of a small computer (value $500), a basic I/O board (value $25), and a couple vibration sensors (value $100) coupled to a communications link (value up to $1000 depending on method).

For the bargain price of only $400,000 we are getting a gizmo that retails for about $1,625 at the local Radio Shack. What a great deal for our nearly bankrupt government. But the better question is, who is getting to pocket the $398,000 in profits? Of course some of that will go to the installer... which will most likely be the already on staff DOT workers. And those same DOT workers will be the maintainers. There will not be a single person hired or "job created" out of this deal.

Now, to respond directly to some other points made by "jg"...

I would rather the Feds show a little responsibility and stop spending this kind of money altogether. This nation cannot afford meaningless pet projects like this one.

Please dig out the stats showing the number of vehicles buried in avalanches on this couple mile section of the Seward highway each year. How about ever? Nothing? Huh, then why are we worried about it again? I just love your "what if" story. Only problem is that such things just don't happen.

If the DOT has to spend $400,000 in that area, hire another State Trooper to patrol from Bear Creek to Cooper Landing to Turnagain Pass during the night. It's a far better investment that will generate a good return on tickets for all the speeders as well as getting those Cooper Landing drunks off the roads at 1am. As a bonus, the Trooper would be able to report any avalanche that happens on his watch.

This is Alaska. If you don't travel with survival gear in your car, especially in the winter time, then it's your own fault if you have to sit there and be cold for a couple hours. Instead of having a California style plan to just call for help, Alaskans are supposed to carry survival gear and the knowledge to use it. We should realize that large portions of the highways up here are absent of cellular coverage and prepare appropriately. I travel all over southcenteral a lot and because I'm out of cellular range about half the time, I choose to buy and carry a satellite communication messenger for that unlikely event that I can't handle a bad situation on my own. If I can plan to help myself, then everyone else should be able to make such a plan as well.

There will be no difference in response time between the current user-reporting system and the electronic system. Why? Because a vibration sensor detecting an avalanche nearby doesn't mean that the road is blocked. So, when the alarm goes off, DOT will still have to send a guy out there in a truck to see if there is a problem. Only when they get a real report back (via DOT, Trooper, or general public traveler) will they be able to authorize the response of heavy equipment.

In fact, with this new alarm gizmo, I expect that you'll just see an increase in DOT after-hours response costs. Since any avalanche in the area would trigger the alarm, they are going to have to drive out there and check each time. Most avalanches will not cover the road, so the overtime response just to go look is going to be time and money wasted.

At any rate, it is this centralized government provides all mentality that is running our nation rapidly into bankruptcy. I can't believe that someone would actually use as an argument that some people can't afford cell phone chargers as a reason why we must rely on the gov't to put in automatic equipment to detect natural dangers. That's the weakest possible argument. If you can afford a car, the $5 gas to put in it, and that dang $400 smarty-pants phone, then anyone who travels the highway can buy that $20 phone charger.

jg
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jg 03/24/12 - 09:54 am
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twist words in every day conversation too?

correlation is not causation... people not affording cell chargers was never a reason to rely on the equipment. it was just a way to show simple math, and how easily small, frivolous items can run up a similar $400,000 bill. Be careful when speaking in such absolutes, because even doctors know there are few absolutes!

shockingly, your family members have likely spent over $400,000 in taxes on gasoline over their lifetimes, yet there is no bickering on that. In fact, it is entirely possible that this funding has come from gas taxes, and when you look at the pump, everybody i know (including myself...) says expletives, then say, "Well, that's sucks, but I need this," and then continue to pump $60-70 from our wallets into our tanks.

If you truly want to protest this system, dont sit on your computer, typing on a blog at 12:54am. Please go to sleep!

When you wake up, ride your bike to work. But when you do this, make sure to stay off roads, since those could be parially funded by Federal programs as well. This way, you disconnect yourself from the entire process, from being an enabler (paying for gas and associated taxes), to being a user (driving down the government's road).

Do not try to change others if you yourself are against change.

JOAT
490
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JOAT 03/26/12 - 04:33 am
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Liberals make no sense

I'm working nightshift this week and that happens to be my lunch break. But thanks for your concern about my computer time. How about not worrying about what time I happen to drop in on the Pen-C to have a look around.

Sorry jg, but your view is so "twisted" that it is quite clear we won't be able to make any headway on this issue. What you're doing here is a typical "duck & dodge" routine. Rather than sticking to any facts, you simply create some irrelevant stuff to tie into the conversation. Let's break it down...

Gov't says we've spent $400,000 of your money (without asking) to install this $2,000 wiggle sensor on the side of the road. Any time it senses vibration, it will send the DOT manager an email. Isn't that cool?

We sayz... no, that's not cool. We don't need you to buy a $400,000 wiggle sensor that is only worth $2,000 just so some manager can have some stuff in his email inbox when he gets up in the morning.

Then jg comes in and says, forget you guys, we need this wiggle sensor. What if there's an avalanche and then you turn around and there's a second avalanche and then you're stuck in the middle?

We sayz, there's no evidence of such a thing ever happening and the possibility of it happening is so remote that it's not even worth making a contingency plan for it. No need to waste the $400,000 on a wiggle sensor.

And jg also says, but maybe people can't afford cell phone chargers cuz they cost $20. And if 20,000 people bought cell phone chargers, that would be $400,000 spent. So there, we should buy the wiggle sensor.

Huh? What does this have to do with that?

Pack some basic survival gear in your vehicle when you travel in the winter. Then, in the unlikely event you get stranded for awhile, you'll be able to take care of yourself. It doesn't matter if they have the wiggle sensor or not as the DOT response to move the snow will be the same either way.

And then jg sayz... but you've already spent $400,000 on gas taxes and you don't complain about that!!!

Oh, yes we do!!! And quite loudly at that.

And then jg sayz... you should ride your bike to work, but not on the road.

Huh? Again, you toss in some totally irrelevant bit to try and steer the conversation away from the topic. I already stated that I drive considerable distances all over SC Alaska. Not a chance that my bicycle (which I do have and ride for recreation) is going to allow me to drive 2,000 miles a month from Kenai to Valdez, especially when you look at all the gear I have to tote around.

Anyway, still waiting for even a sliver of info/data/evidence that supports the need for the gov't to spend $400,000 on this wiggle sensor in a remote section of highway somewhere between Moose Pass and Bear Creek. But thanks for playing. It has been loads of fun!

jg
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jg 03/26/12 - 09:12 am
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way to bring up partisanship, covering for a weakening argument

Thank you for the recap of the conversation. It is quite difficult to scroll up the screen to read previous comments, so your skewed re-packaging of the relevant points has helped to fill up more room on this page.

I don't know what a wiggle sensor is. please define that, since there is no info/data/evidence that these "sensors" actually exist. you may be talking about a seismometer, but those are used in monitoring earthquakes and tremors. actually, the term you are looking for is a "geo-phone", which senses low-frequency sound waves inside a large covered drum to determine the sound of avalanches.

You also apparently missed out on the comment period for the environmental analysis, which is the equivalent of the government asking citizens for comments on proposed projects. you may have been asleep...

JOAT
490
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JOAT 03/26/12 - 09:01 pm
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Thank you

Another fine example of the duck n dodge routine. Love it! The University would be so proud. ;)

Watchman on the Wall
2893
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Watchman on the Wall 04/01/12 - 03:11 pm
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JOAT thats slick the way you

JOAT thats slick the way you incorrperated Duck n here.
I still say it's a major waste of money when it will not aid in crews being dispatched to begin clean ups any sooner.
This is one of the reasons America is $100 TRILLION dollars in unreported debt. This Squanderville attitude we have about spending money from Nowhereville has sunk OUR ship.
This it's free for the taking so whats it gonna hurt attitude has brought us to this point of NO RETURN and OUR economical collapse is at an any day event with absolutely No Hope.

Jeremiah 6:17

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