The unsung heroes

Michael Long
Project Manager, Adult Learning Programs
APWA Kansas City office

The reality is that the public readily recognizes that fire and police departments rush to the scene of emergencies, but often don't realize it is their local public works department that returns community life to normal. In fact they might not even know a public works department exists. The truth is that public works professionals are unsung community heroes not only in times of emergency but in everyday life as well.

On October 25, 2001, APWA aired an emergency preparedness seminar over the Internet. More than 2,000 public works professionals representing over 150 public works agencies from across North America tuned in to the two-hour program to learn more on how to prepare their agencies in order to counteract a disaster before it happens. As a follow-up to that program, APWA will air a second Click, Listen & Learn on the subject February 7, 2001.

"Whether we experience a disaster of the magnitude of the Oklahoma City bombing, a 29-car pileup from an ice storm in Missouri two years ago, the collapse of a building under construction or the aftermath of a surprise tornado, public works personnel have always been at the scene clearing debris, restoring structures and implementing changes to prevent future disasters," said Richard Ridings, P.E., APWA President, in the opening remarks of the October program.

The program stressed the importance of having a public works annex to the community's Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Having an annex to the community's EOP enables public works agencies to be prepared for their roles and responsibilities when crisis situations occur. Emergency planning must include doing a vulnerability assessment, mitigating possible outcomes, compiling and documenting critical information, designing different response techniques unique to possible hazards, and creating steps to community recovery.

The featured speakers of the program were Mark McCain, former Director of Public Works for the City of Columbia, South Carolina, and Paul Brum, Public Works Director, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

McCain has been a frequent instructor for both FEMA and the new Department of Justice anti-terrorism course and provided insight for viewers into many of the issues surrounding terrorist actions. He shared a comprehensive list of known terrorist and extremist groups that pose a threat to public works facilities and infrastructures.

Paul Brum, having led his public works department during the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 and F5 tornado in 1999, shared with viewers his experiences with disaster recovery. Brum said that in contingency planning it is necessary to have equipment and supplies stored and ready for use. For example, Brum said he keeps about 1,500 stop signs in storage just in case power is knocked out to traffic signals, crippling major intersections.

In response to over half of the virtual attendees of the October program requesting more information on how to develop an emergency response plan, "Countering Disaster Before It Strikes" on February 7, 2002, will take an in-depth look at what is involved in doing a vulnerability assessment, what a well-developed emergency plan looks like, and how to build public confidence in public services.

Public works professionals are anxious to better prepare themselves to respond to disasters. The truth is, they have always been well prepared.

To contact Michael Long, please call 816-472-6100 or send e-mail to

APWA's audio-web conferences offer a new, cost-effective way of learning and sharing information through the use of tools sitting on your desk: a telephone and a PC with web access. Listen to the speakers through your telephone, and view the visual presentation via the web. Programs average two hours in length and include printed speaker handouts and feature live Q&A. Participate from your desk, or in a group setting by connecting through a conference/speaker phone and projecting the web image upon a screen.


Countering Disaster Before It Strikes — February 7, 2002, 12:30-2:30 Central

Cutting Through the Dust: Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance — March 5, 2002, 10:00-12:00 Central

Using Gut-level Emotion to Make Safety Training Stick; An Alternative Approach that YOU Can Use — April 24, 2002, 10:00-12:00 Central

Conflict Solving for the New Supervisor — Tuesday, May 21, 2002, 10:00-12:00 Central

Implementing GASB 34 — What It Could Mean For You — Wednesday, July 17, 2002, 10:00-12:00 Central

Effective Use of Chemicals and Abrasives for Winter Road Maintenance — Tuesday, October 29, 2002, 10:00-12:00 Central

Risk Management and Tort Liability on the Roadways — What You Need to Know to Protect Your Agency! — December 5, 2002, 10:00-12:00 Central