Why public works needs a plan to manage snow and ice operations

George A. Flaherty
Director, Emergency Management
County of Cumberland, State of Maine

Editor's Note: This issue contains the first part of Mr. Flaherty's article. The concluding piece on snow and ice mitigation strategies will appear in the March issue.

The management responsibility of a snow-ice program for any governmental agency is a very arduous task.

Snow and ice maintenance of roads and highways is as important as any public safety function. Without a plan that is comprehensive and results oriented, public safety and commerce can be severely compromised.

Managing a snow-ice program is a 365-day-per-year responsibility. The planning and management involves the four basic ingredients of emergency management:

  • Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery
  • Mitigation
I've felt that snow/ice operations are the equivalent to going to war. The snow/ice operations are similar to the operations aboard an aircraft carrier, except they use trucks, graders, loaders, spreaders etc. instead of aircraft.

The operation crews are supported by maintenance and repair programs fully committed to the snow/ice program, goals, and objectives. Mechanics and vehicle maintenance personnel maintain the fleet in top operational readiness. The maintenance group ensures that all vehicles are safe, fully equipped and operational, and that there are adequate supplies of fuels, parts, and equipment to meet the needs of the operation.

Vehicle maintenance and equipment-operational personnel must have open, two-way communication with one another to keep all parties informed of all aspects of the operation and the condition of the equipment.

The vehicle maintenance manager needs to have an established plan to keep the snow/ice operational team managers informed on the following:

  • Equipment availability.
  • Number and type of equipment out of service and estimated availability.
  • Identification of equipment and operational crews in the maintenance area for short- and long-term maintenance.
  • The safe and ready access of equipment in/out of maintenance and fueling areas.
  • Radio/Communication with all operations and incident managers.
The operations personnel must know and understand the goals and objectives they are required to obtain. Like the air crews aboard an aircraft carrier, specific equipment is needed to do specific assignments including:
  • Pickup trucks for road patrol.
  • Salt-sand trucks for ice control.
  • Trucks with plow-wing plow for plowing.
  • Front-end loaders for plowing.
  • Front-end loaders for loading.
  • Trucks and trailers for hauling equipment and materials.
  • Blowers for blowing or loading snow.
  • Field supervisors for quality control, reconnaissance, and intelligence.
  • Road graders for plowing or ice removal.
  • Crews for opening drainage ways.
  • Crews to install signs and barricades.
  • Crews to undertake emergency repairs, etc.
Each field employee must be fully trained and understand his/her assignments. Work tasks are given verbally as well as in writing. Every crew member will be given a copy of the Operations Field Plan including all necessary maps, etc. Crew members are required to attend educational and training programs and participate in tabletop and functional exercises to increase awareness and job skills.

The snow-ice emergency plan needs to provide a systematic and orderly approach for obtaining the goals established in the plan. Planning should include the involvement of representatives from the customers (the citizens and businesses) receiving the service and those who provide it. Expectations of the customers should be measured against the achievements of the service provider.

The plan should identify goals/strategies such as the following:

  • Plowing cycle for all routes to be between six/eight hours (for example).
  • Public transit bus routes to be plowed/treated once every hour.
  • Public service announcements to be updated every two hours or as needed to keep the public informed.
The plan needs to identify policies such as those outlined below:
  • Pavement condition policy.
  • On-street parking policy.
  • Towing and impoundment of illegally parked vehicles.
  • Parking ban policy that identifies allowable parking alternatives.
  • Public service announcements to inform and educate the citizens on the community's winter maintenance program.
  • Identification of emergency snow routes.
  • Establish a Program Headquarters (Emergency Operations Center).
  • Posting of weather information, for the snow crew's information.
  • Log all snow operation activities.
  • Institute a chemical management plan.
  • Snow removal program to be based on the agency's authorized and approved plan.
  • Use of contractors. If contractors are used, their work tasks must be included in the plan and their work product assessed.
  • Snow disposal policy.
  • Contaminated snow disposal policy and plan.
  • Equipment maintenance/repairs policy.
  • Equipment fueling procedures.
  • Catch basin, critical flooding areas clearance plan.
  • Sidewalk school snow plowing, removal and ice treatment policy.
  • Plowing/removal of snow and ice from city-owned property policy and procedures.
  • Ice control-pavement management plan.
  • Critical intersection management program.
  • Snow disposal fee schedule.
  • Illuminated parking ban signs and utilization policy and plan.
  • Vehicle impoundment area management policy.
  • School parking lot plowing policy.
  • High-volume pedestrian traffic snow/ice removal policy.
  • Use of two-way radio communication.
For more information, contact George Flaherty at 207-892-6785 or at countye.m.a@aol.com. His article will conclude in the March issue.

For information on attending the 2001 North American Snow Conference, held April 8-11 in Indianapolis, Indiana, contact APWA at snow@apwa.net or 816-472-6100. It truly is the premier event for snow and ice management!

Also, be sure to check out the excellent information on snow removal available through APWA's bookstore. Just go to www.apwa.net, click on Shop and then on Snow Removal.