POWELL — When a group email was sent in August alerting employees that all state vehicles need to have a communications upgrade installed, there were mixed emotions.
A new tracking system will add safety features to employees who travel on Wyoming’s long, often lonely roads.
But it will also track their driving habits — not always a welcome record for some.
Recently, a Wyoming Game and Fish employee, heading home after a long day in the backcountry, went off the road and into the ditch. The employee might have had a long walk ahead had the vehicle not been equipped with the new tracker, said Jaye Wacker, public information officer in the Director’s Office of the Department of Administration & Information.
After the accident, state fleet manager Dale Spiess immediately received an alert from the FirstNet system allowing him to check in with Game and Fish, who sent help.
“At certain times, [the report] automatically goes to Highway Patrol dispatch as well,” Wacker said. “Fortunately, the employee was fine. But the system saved them from making a heck of a hike.”
It’s exactly the reason the state wanted the upgraded tracking system. Risk management is extremely important, he said.
Yet, there’s a downside for those with unsafe driving habits. Employee driving will now be scrutinized at a much higher rate. The tracking devices report safety issues immediately to officials.
“If a driver goes 95, we’re notified. If the driver doesn’t wear a seat belt, we’re notified. If there’s an accident, we’re notified,” Wacker said.
The work to reduce risk not only saves lives, it saves money, he said. The state gets a discount on worker’s compensation claim costs due to its efforts to reduce risks.
During his previous career as an English teacher, Wacker taught George Orwell’s book, “1984.” The book, published in 1949, was about a future (although now nearly 40 years ago) where “thought police” and “Big Brother” were constantly monitoring citizens.
“I’m as paranoid as anybody of Big Brother. But at the same time, this is one of those applications that seems reasonable,” Wacker said.
Getting on the wrong side of the tracking system can lead to the unemployment line.
“We have let people go over safety violations. It’s that big of a deal,” said Wacker.
Bringing in every state vehicle is a “massive undertaking,” he said. The state motor pool currently has more than 1,200 vehicles in the first round of installations. The state was unable to say exactly how many vehicles would eventually be upgraded, but the good news is that the entire program was a great deal.
“The cool thing is [the system, including installation] came to the state for free and saves our risk management [office] money,” he said.
AT&T has a FirstNet contract with the federal government. The First Responder Network Authority of the United States was created under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The mission is to “deploy, operate, maintain, and improve the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety,” AT&T reported.
The public safety communications platform allows agencies and first responders to receive information quickly, helping them to make faster and better decisions in emergency situations, the company said.
Through the program, AT&T paid for the equipment and for a third party contractor to install the units at no cost to the state.
Most area state employees received the upgrades through Sept. 16. A state official said much of the information would be public, although privacy for employees would be maintained.