Did someone say "Let it snow"?
Did someone say "Let it snow"? I will. For many years now, I have had the opportunity to experience several of the various training venues that are available for the public works professional. One of these educational events, the APWA North American Snow Conference, has stood out as being the premier information source for our profession, and it keeps getting better. This annual event has been an invaluable forum that has benefited numerous agencies throughout North America and around the globe. Our APWA organization has worked hard over the years to make this conference the "Big Show," the authority, in the winter maintenance world. It is designed to assist the manager who is tasked with the challenging and sometimes thankless task of dealing with winter weather.
For many organizations, winter maintenance is a crucial part of their business. Whether they are an agency that experiences 100 inches or more of snow a year, or one that deals with numerous small events, the responsibility they have to provide safe travel conditions on our roadways is a critical burden. In many instances, a public works department gets judged more heavily on the job they do with handling winter storms than the rest of their activities combined. Doing a mediocre job may haunt you the rest of the year. Possessing the proper knowledge and tools to "get the job done" can "make or break you" in this business.
For a great deal of my career, I had the responsibility of managing the snow operations. This was, without a doubt, one of the most challenging and, most times, rewarding parts of my job. I just can't say enough about the dedicated men and women who drive the snowplows when the storm comes—it truly is a team effort to ensure public safety. During these major snow events our forces are the "first responders" that provide the public safety that communities have to have to survive. Public works is the force that maintains the economy during a time when nothing is moving on our streets and highways. Many times commerce comes to a halt until our members clear the way and get it rolling again.
Indeed, watching a well-planned operation "come together" during major events can be a truly great experience, one in which you can take justifiable pride. On the other hand, a few wrong calls can mean numerous "chats" with unhappy customers. While "old man winter" doesn't always deal you the best hand, finding new and innovative ways to "rise to the occasion," using the information and experience you gain, is one aspect of this line of work that I find to be particularly rewarding. The information I have gained at the North American Snow Conferences I have attended provided me with the tools and contacts necessary to continually enhance our program.
In 2000, the Michigan Chapter that I am a part of had the opportunity to host the North American Snow Conference in Traverse City. There was a great deal of planning and effort that went into hosting the event, and the rewards are ongoing. An added benefit for everyone who volunteered to be involved was the opportunity to work with others around our state. The new/improved relationships between staff from various governmental branches have continued to provide benefits.
Since the 2000 Snow Conference in Michigan, there have been several strides taken to make a great conference even better. The staff at APWA has been working directly with the Winter Maintenance Subcommittee to help identify topics that they anticipate the membership has an interest or a need. The partnership between the APWA members on this subcommittee and the APWA staff has proven to be effective in providing the right ingredients to produce a "top-notch" event. This year in Kansas City, more than 120 exhibitors will be featured on the exhibit floor. There will also be numerous educational sessions, technical tours and a "hands-on" equipment demonstration the last day of the conference.
Attending APWA's North American Snow Conference is something that every public works professional who wants to enhance their agency's program should not only consider, but should do! While it is hard to assign a dollar amount to the benefits that one gains, the opportunity to learn from others and share some of your own successes and challenges is invaluable.
Plan to come see us in Kansas City this April for some interesting sessions, lively discussion, and a lot of great barbecue. I hope to see you all there.
I would like to thank Bret Hodne, Winter Maintenance Subcommittee Chair, for contributing to this article.
Editor's Note: See pages 13-16 for more details on the North American Snow Conference and a registration form, or visit the Snow Conference website at www.apwa.net/meetings/snow/2005. The exhibit floor plan and a list of current exhibitors can also be found at the conference website. Articles promoting the Technical Tours during the conference are included on pages 12 and 18 in this issue.