Computer-based training for RWIS/anti-icing

Richard J. Nelson, P.E.
District Engineer
Nevada Department of Transportation
Sparks, Nevada

Across the United States significant improvements in winter maintenance have been taking place. Traditional snow and ice control strategies are being revolutionized through the use of RWIS (Road Weather Information System) technology and anti-icing techniques. Key to the successful integration of these new tools into a winter maintenance program is training. AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) identified this training as the number-one priority for SICOP (Snow and Ice Cooperative Program).

The challenge in producing this training program was to present global concepts associated with RWIS and anti-icing, while at the same time addressing agencies' specific equipment, policies, materials and local weather. In addition, there was a desire for the target audience to cut across many levels of a maintenance organization from equipment operator to maintenance engineer.

Basis of the Training
The development of anti-icing techniques in the United States began as part of the Strategic Highway Research Program and carried forward by the Federal Highway Administration. Many years of field trials by dozens of agencies culminated in the development of the Manual of Practice for an Effective Anti-Icing Program. This document became the foundation of the training program.

To support the agencies participating in the field trials, a traditional training program was developed by the researchers to instruct the field crews and management in the use of RWIS and the principles of anti-icing. The Iowa DOT, Nevada DOT and Wisconsin DOT developed training specific to their states that became the framework of the training program.

Training Delivery Model
Successfully implementing RWIS and anti-icing strategies requires a shift in the way winter maintenance is carried out. Merely presenting the material in a classroom setting would have limited success in changing the culture of winter maintenance. Maintenance engineers and workers need more than the principles of RWIS and anti-icing. Applying the knowledge through decision-making during winter storms and understanding the outcome of those decisions are important to success.

The performance-based training model requires students to demonstrate proficiency by successfully performing a series of tasks. To remove the risk associated with poor decisions during actual winter storms, the training program utilizes a series of storm scenarios or simulations for students to practice what they learned.

Using current multimedia computer-based training technology to produce this program has many advantages:

  • Training can be conducted in a classroom setting or as a self-paced program. This allows students to work at their own pace either alone or in small teams. It can take place over several sessions, in a non-threatening setting.

  • The use of template-driven applications to produce this program means it can be easily modified to match each agency's current winter maintenance program, policies, and equipment. Likewise, it is expandable so that additional material can be added as it becomes available through national research or as the agency's experiences grows.

  • A full set of RWIS and anti-icing reference material is included which can be updated. Book marking the knowledge tree and glossary for future reference means that this program can become a future reference after the training is completed.

  • In the scenario room, students fight simulated storms. This allows them to try new techniques and strategies to gain confidence before they apply them in real life.

  • A full set of administrative tools is provided so that training managers can track students' progress and identify areas where students have a particularly difficult time.

  • The multimedia experience makes this program enjoyable to use.
RWIS and Anti-Icing Training
Development of the training followed sound adult education principles. The program requires interaction by the student beyond simply moving from one page to the next. Interactive exercises, fun facts, hot links to key word definitions, the glossary, and Internet websites add to the experience. An Office Assistant named Jake is there to help students through the program.

The theme of winter maintenance is carried throughout the training. When students begin the program, they come to the "Road Map." As they complete each lesson and demonstrate their proficiency by passing a quiz, the lesson is checked off and their snowplow plows the road to the next lesson. The material is presented through the windshield of a snowplow. Functionality is built into the various controls in the cab. For example, click on the radio for help, the turn indicator to go forward or back, and the door handle to exit.

The actual training is divided into two parts. The first contains seven formal lessons that present the base of knowledge for RWIS and anti-icing. The lessons are:

  • Introduction to Anti-Icing and Winter Maintenance
  • Winter Road Management
  • Roadway Ice and Winter Hazards
  • Weather Basics
  • Anti-Icing Road Weather Analysis
  • Computer Access to Road Weather Information
  • AI/RWIS Practice in Winter Maintenance
Some lessons are global and relevant to all agencies, while others are very agency-specific. There is a master, generic, training program that contains all the material with placeholders for the various media necessary to create an agency-specific, custom program.

The second is the scenario room where simulated storms play out based on the decisions of the student.

The Scenario Room
Once students complete all seven lessons and pass the quizzes, they find themselves in the scenario room where they can practice what they have learned. Faced with a variety of winter storms particular to their own region, students make decisions regarding chemical use and timing based on information from many sources. Detractors and distractions are also present in the scenario room to complicate the life of the student.

Job aids developed for each piece of technology to assist students in the scenario room and in real life are available. The purpose of the job aids is to provide clear and concise information without referring to the reference text. In general, each job aid is limited to one page. Laminated, they can survive the rigors of winter maintenance and serve as a quick reference on the job.

Suggestions and examples of data collection techniques to capture actual pre-storm, storm, and post-storm decisions are offered in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the decisions actually made and is an important concept to provide feedback to the training program. Modifications can then be made to improve the program in future years on an agency-by-agency basis.

This computer-based training program provides students of winter maintenance at all levels with the necessary knowledge to utilize RWIS technology to make good decisions during winter maintenance operations. The scenario room with its simulated winter storms allows for the development of decision-making skills using these technologies before the actual winter storm. This combination of tools and reference material should provide a solid start for the implementation of RWIS and anti-icing technologies in a winter maintenance program.

The development of this training program was made possible by the cooperation of SICOP, the AURORA Snow and Ice Consortium, and several participating governmental agencies through the AASHTO Pooled Fund program.

For more information, contact Richard J. Nelson, P.E., at (775) 834-8344 or send e-mail to