Blizzard 2015: Snowplow tracker, PlowNYC, gives real-time updates on cleanup

In many major cities working to clean the mess left by the winter storm that blasted much of the northeast, snowplows are now equipped with GPS trackers. The technology used to direct the plows also gives real-time updates on the cleanup effort. Thanks to one website application, that's putting residents in the driver's seat, reports CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers.

Even before the blizzard reaches its full potential, the operations center of New York City's sanitation department was focused on getting plows to the streets that need them most.

"We really view ourselves as the first of the first responders," sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia said. "We're speaking to the field, we're on the radio with the field and we're tracking all the cameras that are available to us across the city to really have real time insight into what the conditions are."

The department plans to deploy 2,550 plows and more than 2,400 workers to combat the storm. It will share its efforts with people through the web app, PlowNYC.

"These snow plows aren't just snow plows, right? They're snowplows with GPS units embedded in them," data scientist Ben Wellington said.

He analyzes statistics provided by New York City.

"The city actually tracks all the snow plows and aggregates all of that information and make it available to New Yorkers on this map," Wellington said. "Green lines on the map show the roads that have been plowed in the last hour whereas the blue line shows the streets that have been plowed in the last one to three hours."

New York isn't the only city applying this kind of technology.

For the first time this year, people in Pittsburgh can track their plows in real time. Chicago has been sharing it's plow data for the last several winters.

The apps free up city call centers to deal with more pressing issues and hold officials responsible for the cleanup and response.

"I think for the public, it gives them a sense of security to see where things are happening and feel like they can hold us accountable," Garcia said. "At the end of the day, we work for them."

Data junkies in New York, who crunch these numbers for fun, are pressing the city to release the raw data behind the PlowNYC app. They'd like to use it to create historical records and perhaps even find more efficient plow routes.