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Publication Number:      Date:  March/April 1999
Issue No: Vol. 62 No. 5
Date: March/April 1999


Analysis and Information Online: An Intranet Application

by Dale Sienicki

OMC Analysis and Information.For more than a year, employees of FHWA's Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (OMCHS) have been using a powerful World Wide Web-based information and analysis tool designed to provide quick and efficient access to a wide spectrum of descriptive statistics and analyses about commercial motor carrier safety and the programs and countermeasures that OMCHS and its partners have implemented to promote safety.

This analysis and information (A&I) system was developed by the OMCHS Analysis Division with the technical assistance of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass.

A&I is currently located on a Web server at the Volpe Center and has been designed to work within the DOT's intranet environment, known as the Interdepartmental Network (IDN). The Volpe Center is one of the entities connected to this wide-area network, along with other modal administrations and staff offices within DOT.

The fundamental benefits of being on an IDN are that it provides a secure platform for data that protects it from unauthorized users, and it is easier to maintain a secure environment by eliminating the need to administer a security management system of user codes and passwords. The obvious drawback of being on an intranet is that personal computers without a connection to the IDN cannot access the site.

A&I currently consists of five modules:

The first module is SafeStat Online. SafeStat (short for Safety Status Measurement System) is a data-driven analysis system developed by the Volpe Center for OMCHS. SafeStat provides an objective, accurate, and efficient means for determining the relative safety status of individual commercial motor carriers on a current and continuous basis. SafeStat Online provides OMCHS employees from the field and from headquarters with individual SafeStat carrier details, as well as national and state summaries of SafeStat results.

The second module is Crash Profiles Online. This module delivers descriptive statistics — on a state-by-state and national level — about fatal and non-fatal (injury and property damage only) crashes involving large trucks. Crash Profiles Online also contains limited data about buses involved in crashes.

The two primary sources of data for the crash profiles are the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) crash file, maintained by OMCHS. The crash profiles of the state contain information that can be used to identify safety problems in specific geographic areas or to compare state statistics to national crash data. Each state's crash profile contains summary tables and full-color graphs with crash data organized into six focus areas: driver, vehicle, environment, crash, carrier, and location.

The Program Performance Measures module addresses the effectiveness (in terms of crash prevention) and the associated cost savings of three OMCHS programs: roadside inspections of commercial motor vehicles, compliance reviews (on-site audits) of commercial motor carriers, and Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) — traffic-enforcement stops that are funded by OMCHS. This module communicates the findings of ongoing research on performance measures and supports the manage of OMCHS in their decision-making.

The Current Analysis Results module provides access to the OMCHS periodical Motor Carrier Analysis, Facts, and Evaluation (MCSAFE) and other recently published OMCHS-sponsored research results on motor carrier safety.

The A&I Points of Contact module is a list of people who can offer additional information on the A&I site, content, or technical support.

Another important feature of A&I is its online feedback capability. Thanks to the rapid and inexpensive development opportunities afforded by Web-based technologies, A&I is able to collect feedback online from its users. This allows the A&I development team to refine existing requirements and identify new requirements. The online feedback capability, accessible from any page on the A&I site, sends an e-mail to the development team with details of a user's comments and recommended enhancements.

The A&I online system, as currently configured and used, represents a fragment of what this analytical tool is capable of doing for OMCHS. The future of A&I will probably involve adding additional information and new capabilities and expanding access to users outside of OMCHS and DOT. Feedback indicates that OMCHS employees are interested in accessing historical data along with current information for both the SafeStat and Crash Profiles in order to monitor changes and support their trend analysis requirements. In addition to retaining and displaying historical data, A&I will provide an online system capability that profiles graphical crash information. The user can view maps indicating where crashes occur at a county level for all states. The maps will be dynamically generated and will reflect current truck crash inspection statistics.

Perhaps more importantly, the A&I site will gradually evolve into an analytical tool to support the needs of OMCHS staff by interpreting data, identifying safety problem areas, and prescribing solutions, particularly for recurring requirements. OMCHS supports the use of SafeStat results to identify and prioritize motor carriers for on-site compliance reviews and to use crash profiles to construct state commercial vehicle safety plans under MCSAP.

OMCHS recognizes that A&I would also be of use to users not connected to the IDN. In addition, OMCHS has some field staff who need to access A&I and are not on the DOT network. However, certain data within the A&I site are sensitive. Therefore, to support a public site, the A&I architecture will need to be modified so that it can be password-protected or will have to be changed so that it contains only non-sensitive information. In this way, components of A&I may be released to the general public through the Internet.

In recent years, under the leadership of Associate Administrator George L. Reagle, Information Analysis Director John F. Grimm, and Analysis Division Chief Terry Shelton, OMCHS has emphasized the use of systematic, reasoned, and critical data examination in policy/program development and management. Providing OMCHS employees with the capabilities to effectively acquire, process, store, retrieve, and analyze data and to communicate, share, and process information with each other and with OMCHS's customers and partners has become increasingly important. It has been a formidable challenge for OMCHS to meet the data and information requirements of an organization with more than 650 employees, with offices located in 50 states, and with many remote work sites. The development of the A&I Web-based technology has provided an opportunity to meet this challenge in an innovative, exciting way.

Dale Sienicki is a transportation specialist in the FHWA Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he has a bachelor's degree in political science from Hiram College and a master's degree in public administration from Kent State University. He has been with FHWA for 14 years.



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