National Highways unveils big plans for SWIS 2

National Highways will shortly embark on scoping the next generation of its groundbreaking Severe Weather Information System (SWIS) and has unveiled a raft of new features that could be added to the platform.

Speaking at Cold Comfort Scotland by popular demand north of the border, Darren Clark, Severe Weather Resilience Manager, and James Cross, Weather Information Services – project sponsor at National Highways, gave exclusive insights in the future of the SWIS.

Some of the aspects of future functionality through data convergence and visualisation, that National Highways will look to secure include:

  • real-time spreading vehicle and floating car data
  • real-time alerts and messaging for customers
  • new management modules
  • dynamic routing for traffic management
  • network vulnerability mapping
  • severe weather management decision support and smart dashboards

Mr Cross told delegates: ‘We will soon be looking to scope the next generation of SWIS. We have been working with our digital services colleagues, safety engineering and standards and our operations colleagues to understand how weather data will need to be utilised as National Highways evolves and as we embark on our digital roads strategy.

'Connected and autonomous vehicles will present a lot of new opportunities. We need to be agile and adapt in the way we use this data. Following a discovery workshop last year, we determined that introducing GIS mapping functionality would bring many benefits for users and allow better data visualisation, which will in turn lead to certain data sets being available in a more consumable and interactive way.

‘A new map page has been created using the latest mapping technologies via open layers. To begin with, we have existing layers – base layer mapping, time-limited weather maps, environmental sensor site observations and forecasts, route journey and depot information. I see this as the start of a new journey as to how data is ingested and shared between other National Highways systems. We are making sure this development and future-proofed and based on common mapping architecture.’

SWIS receives and stores and distributes a wide range of severe weather information including national and area forecasts. It is an internal website designed to support strategic and reactive decision making and provide a robust audit trail as it allows users to go back to an earlier date and see the exact information available at the time.

It ingests and displays severe weather and flood warnings from weather forecasters and Environment Agency as well as weather observations collected directly from National Highways’ 250 environmental centre stations and indirectly through an API from over 60 local authority weather stations. It then distributes network specific alerts and general weather information and forecasts to the national traffic information service.

SWIS also includes information on national and area salt stocks, fuel availability, vehicle availability current and historic severe weather guidance, and area severe weather plans.

Mr Cross told Highways that as part of the SWIS development, National Highways has created ‘a SWIS integration site’, currently in beta version.

‘This is used to walk through scenarios of anything new we are trying or training scenarios with our forecasting providers and it's given us a really good testbed to see what the art of the possible is.’

In line with the sector’s increasing awareness and response to a wider range of severe weather events, SWIS was recently configured to display the Met Office extreme heat national severe weather warnings as well and operates all year round, providing a detailed source of information related to high winds rainfall and heat.

Mr Clark said: ‘We have done some recent work with European counterparts looking at smart dashboards and if you look at the background to that it is using in-car data. We are starting to look and delve into that big data. We are also sharing our data with forecast providers already so they can look at salt usage and see the impact of their forecasts on salt usage so they can look at salt usage to drive efficiencies and be more dynamic.’

He added that senior figures at Transport Scotland were also involved in those discussions with European colleagues.

SWIS applications have been developed over several years based on feedback by users with recent improvements under the current contract including the development of salt stock reporting, a new document management facility to host severe weather plans, strategies and processes and a data exchange connected to the vehicle login service delivered as part of the new fleet.

The platform will also soon migrate from current partner Civica’s Microsoft Azure hosting to National Highways' own Azure hosting.

Cold Comfort 2022 (introducing Climate UK), the 29th Annual Winter Service Conference and Exhibition, takes place at the Harrogate Convention Centre on 25 and 26 May 2022.

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