R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter
Snow, snow, beautiful snow. Fun to play in if you're a kid. Not so fun to deal with if you're an adult.
Which is why a bunch of adults gathered recently at the 42nd Annual North American Snow Conference to learn about the latest innovations, successful practices, and strategies in winter operations and snowfighting techniques. Sponsored by APWA and hosted by the Ohio Chapter, the premier event for snow and ice management took place April 14-16 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Public works professionals from across the United States, Canada and Great Britain were in town with the single objective of learning more efficient and effective ways to deal with winter weather. Participants from twenty states, as well as officials from every county in Ohio, attended this year's conference.
"It was an excellent conference overall," said Bret Hodne, Superintendent of Public Works, City of West Des Moines, Iowa, and member of APWA's Winter Maintenance Subcommittee. "It was a good opportunity to network and to pick up some valuable information on things that are working, as well as things that haven't worked so well, from people from different agencies."
The conference began on Sunday, April 14, with two technical tours: a tour of the Transportation Research Center, and a tour of the City of Columbus' new maintenance facility and the Ohio Emergency Management Operations Center. The City has an impressive maintenance facility, according to Clyde Seidle, Principal, Moody-Nolan, Inc., and Chair of the 2002 North American Snow Conference Host Committee.
"It was an excellent opportunity to visit their shop facilities to see what's new and exciting," Seidle said. "The shop that we visited in Columbus had been built in just the last couple of years, so we had the opportunity to see the latest in the design of shop maintenance facilities, and learn from them what, if they did it over again, they might do differently."
Providing welcoming remarks at the Opening General Session later that afternoon were APWA President Richard Ridings; Columbus Mayor Michael C. Coleman; Gordon Proctor, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation (representing Governor Bob Taft); and Franklin County Engineer Dean Ringle. Following their remarks, Joanne Sujansky, Ph.D., delivered the keynote address dealing with how to manage change successfully.
"She gave a good presentation and was very well received," said Michael Long, APWA Project Manager, Adult Education, who worked with the Ohio Chapter and the Winter Maintenance Subcommittee in developing the educational program. "Her message was that change can lead to new opportunities and greater freedom. She encourages people to adapt to new changes in the environment, to pay attention to what's going on in the world, and to not be afraid to ask questions or look to others for help."
Following the Opening General Session, the exhibit floor opened at 4:30 p.m. and featured a record number 140 vendors demonstrating the very latest products, services, and technologies available in snowfighting and winter road maintenance. As usual, there was a wide variety of products and services represented on the floor. "It wasn't just snowplows," Hodne said. "There were chemical sales representatives, equipment vendors, and automated vehicle location folks there as well. There was a very diverse, broad base of manufacturers on the floor. The information the attendees could get was tremendous, from technology to equipment that could be used."
Monday's General Session was presented in the "talk show" format that was so popular when it debuted at the Indianapolis conference last year. This year's session, entitled "Before They Get Behind the Wheel: Innovative Driver Training Programs You Should Know About," proved just as popular, with a number of the attendees participating in the question-and-answer format. Judging by the enthusiasm for this format, it's clear that the "Talk Show" will be a great asset for the conference in coming years.
The educational program began following Monday's General Session and included topics that included selecting the right chemical de-icers, sleep depravation, weather forecasting, and how to deal with the media and public. "The educational sessions were a big hit," said Long. "There were four sessions in a series, and we averaged between 80 and 100 per class. In fact, it was standing room only in about half of the sessions. There were sessions on how to manage your resources, new technologies used on different types of de-icers, and even how to deal with the public as you get hit by different events. The sessions were interesting and well attended."
The Winter Maintenance Subcommittee met on Monday afternoon and, according to Ann Daniels, APWA Professional Development Program Manager and staff liaison to the committee, much was accomplished during the meeting. "We identified three or four major things that the committee is going to work on," Daniels said. "We discussed some new sessions for Congress next year, and we're going to help out with the educational format for next year's Snow Conference. We're also going to solicit some new committee members from various parts of the U.S. and Canada. We've got some big things coming up on the committee, and we laid out some goals of what we want to achieve over the next two to five years."
The Closing General Session speaker, explorer and entrepreneur Jeff MacInnis, was very popular, as witnessed by the numerous attendees who applauded him at the end of his presentation. "I went to see him because he sounded so interesting," said Diana Forbes, APWA Meetings Coordinator. "His message is 'Dream, Dare, and Do.' He stressed that you should always try to accomplish or finish a goal or dream; don't just take it halfway. He was very inspiring."
Long agreed with Forbes, adding that MacInnis' message would be a benefit to public works professionals. "He took us all through what it's like to work as a team, and how to motivate others on your team as far as training is concerned," Long said. "He said it's always easier to accomplish something when you do it with other people, together. And make sure that everyone has a means of communication with you and within your organization."
Wednesday, April 17 was the day of the Ohio Invitational Equipment Roadeo, presented by APWA's Ohio Chapter and the Ohio Department of Transportation. Held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, the Roadeo tested the skills of operators using snowplows, backhoes, graders and loaders commonly used in winter maintenance operations. "We had a really good turnout for that too," said Seidle. "We had over 90 participants and close to 250 people who walked through to see the large snow and ice equipment."
Ultimately, as the saying goes, a good time was had by all at the 2002 North American Snow Conference. Let's leave it to our very own inimitable Ann Daniels to sum it up for us: "The conference went very well, as it usually does, because we had a good program scheduled, lots of interesting topics, different and unique formats, and an excellent exhibit floor. There were lots of things to do to get your money's worth out of attending this conference."
A big "thank you" goes to the Ohio Chapter, volunteers, and APWA staff for all their efforts in making the 2002 North American Snow Conference a successful event.
Mark your calendar for next year's Snow Conference in beautiful and historic Quebec City, Quebec, April 27-30, 2003.