Snow & Ice + Derby Pie = Snow Conference in Louisville

Ashley Scherzer
Project Manager, Adult Learning
American Public Works Association
Kansas City, Missouri

Despite tirelessly dealing with record snowfalls and winter-related disasters, snowfighters across the world traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to attend the North American Snow Conference to...you guessed it, talk about snow.

This year's Snow Conference, April 13-16 at the Kentucky International Convention Center, consisted of over 30 diverse education sessions, three energizing General Sessions, two technical tours, a packed show floor with 126 exhibiting companies, and a Derby-style banquet at the famous Churchill Downs.

Sunday opened with a handful of education sessions where one could find out the cold, hard facts about the costs of deicing material, hear about Kentucky's non-traditional approach to Road Weather Information System (RWIS), or discover how one of Ohio DOT's districts went "monster garage" style with their ultimate snow and ice fighting machine, the multi-purpose trailer (MPT). The 30' MPT was parked outside the convention center so attendees could kick the tires and think about how they might build such a machine.

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson (left) and APWA President Larry Frevert chatted before Sunday's Opening General Session.

At Sunday's Opening General Session, attendees were greeted by Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson; Rick Storm, Chair of the Kentucky Chapter's Snow Conference Host Committee; and Larry Frevert, APWA President. President Frevert presented the first-ever Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Awards to five deserving agencies. This APWA national award was established to promote excellence in the management and administration of public works snow and ice operations and to promote best practices in snow and ice removal while minimizing environmental impacts. The five agencies are the City of Chicago, Illinois, Department of Streets and Sanitation; the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Public Works Department; Shingle Creek Watershed Commission, Plymouth, Minnesota; North Texas Tollway Authority, Plano, Texas; and Westchester County, New York, Department of Public Works. (For more information on these agencies and the Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Award, see the April issue, pages 28-29.) Also at Sunday's Opening General Session, John Cassis, keynote speaker, opened with a talk about "Catching a Second Wind," which was very timely considering the winter most agencies have experienced this year.

Following the Opening General Session, the APWA Kentucky Chapter welcomed attendees with a reception on the exhibit floor. This informal Sunday evening exhibit opening was a fun way to end the first day of the conference, giving everyone a chance to catch up with old friends, meet some new people, and chat with the Snow Conference vendors.

The panelists at the General Session "Talk Show" gave presentations about their communication strategies with the media and the public.

Monday kicked off with the General Session "Talk Show" and the theme this year was "Weathering the Storm - Don't Go Out Unprepared." The host was Allison Gardner Martin, former Deputy Communications Director, Mayor's office in Louisville, and the panel was made up of five guests with experience in dealing with the media and extreme snow and ice storms. The five guests were: Diana Clonch, Ohio DOT, Columbus, Ohio; Jonathan Gano, City of Springfield, Missouri; Greg Hicks, Louisville Metro, Louisville, Kentucky; Bruce McPhail, City of Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Larry Schneider, City of Ft. Collins, Colorado. Each guest gave a short presentation about their communications strategy with the media and the public, as well as some basic facts about their winter maintenance operations. The audience was able to ask questions about anything relating to snow and ice. Several questions came up about how to handle damaged mailboxes during snow removal.

Extreme winter conditions and the need to do "more with less" were the foundation for several of the education sessions that attracted attendees seeking solutions. Mike Kennedy, City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, said, "Due to ever-increasing financial stresses resulting in less in-house resource availability, our agency is having to start thinking about outsourcing for snow and ice control resources or services. There were several sessions that helped us get a feel for what others are doing in the industry and will help us consider options as we move forward." President Frevert said, "One of Monday morning's education speakers told us, 'It's not your grandfather's snowplow anymore!' With new technologies, advanced equipment and customer service-focused programs, how true this is. It's been a few years since I've attended the Snow Conference and I am truly impressed with how winter maintenance has moved from an 'art' to a 'science.' The professionals that have gathered here in Louisville this week are all seeking to provide safer driving conditions and more winter mobility to the public they serve. It is exciting to hear our speakers and listen in to our attendees visiting with exhibitors and networking among themselves in the halls about providing citizens with the best value possible for the taxes they pay. One of our attendees told me this was his first-ever Snow Conference but it certainly wouldn't be his last because of what he'd learned and seen on just the first morning of the conference. It certainly makes me proud to be a part of APWA, a professional association that is helping to improve the quality of life for our families, our friends and even the members of the public we don't know."

There were some exciting twists to the typical sessions this year. The profile of the typical snow speaker appears to be diversifying, which was apparent at the Snow Conference in Louisville. There were still the seasoned professionals that have been working in winter maintenance for many years and contribute much knowledge and expertise, but on the flip side, there were younger generations who are just starting their career path. Not only were multiple generations presenting, but there were a few sessions where the panelists were operators and presented their perspective. An example was a four-panel session, "Winter Maintenance - Through the Windshield of the Operator." The operators discussed issues such as the pros and cons of liquid usage, shift management for drivers, and being proactive in prewetting. For those interested in using new technologies, there was plenty to pick from as well.

The exhibit floor was impressive with its nearly 23,000 square feet of exhibits that ranged from tabletops, to heavy equipment, to snowplow driving simulators. Not only did the show floor provide the opportunity to see new equipment, but it gave attendees a chance to talk one-on-one with vendors about a product they may be currently using. Scott Bressler from Butler County Engineers Office in Hamilton, Ohio commented that there were some "very experienced manufacturer representatives" who gave him a chance to ask questions and express concerns about their products. Scott said they "take note of my concerns and try to improve where they can."

In the Closing General Session, Noel Thompson, APWA President-Elect and member of the host chapter, thanked the attendees not only for coming to the Snow Conference, but went on to say, "Nothing is more basic to building and sustaining a vibrant world than providing the services to humanity that public works employees and their supporters do every day. That's the best work of life. That's what you do. I'm proud to be amongst you for that reason. Snow and ice fighters are some of our great quiet heroes. Sometimes others take you for granted because you make the hard plays look easy. The public doesn't see you sweat. Boy, they don't know what they're missing! Thank you for the things you do that make such a wonderful difference every day in your community's life." The keynote speaker, David Rabiner, spoke about how to "Succeed, Stay Sane, and Have Fun at Work." Attendees left the session realizing that a small shift in attitude can make big differences in one's emotional well-being, and the amount of fun had at work.

Tuesday evening's banquet was billed as "Kentucky Derby Night at Churchill Downs." It was a few weeks too early to see the actual Run for the Roses, but Snow Conference attendees still enjoyed the Mint Juleps and a delicious buffet dinner at Millionaire's Row overlooking the race track. The absence of live horses running on the track did not stop a few lucky folks from winning great prizes with mock video horse races. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly a presentation by John Asher, Vice President of Communications at Churchill Downs, who captivated the crowd with his fascinating stories of horse racing and the Kentucky Derby.

The conference wrapped up on Wednesday with two technical tours. Attendees could either go to the Louisville Regional Airport Authority's maintenance facility to see the snow removal and deicing equipment, or they could visit Louisville Underground. Converted from an active limestone mine in the early 1970s, the Underground has developed into a multi-faceted facility that not only serves as a reserve salt storage facility, but holds items such as original major motion picture films.

If you missed the conference or a particular session, handouts provided electronically by the presenters are now available at www.apwa.net/meetings/snow/2008.

APWA is in the process of gearing up for the 2009 Snow Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. If you have something you would like to share with your peers at next year's show, the Call for Speakers is now open. It's simple! Visit www.apwa.net/speakatsnow for information on how to submit, or contact Ashley Scherzer at (816) 595-5214. If you are interested in exhibiting, contact Diana Forbes at (816) 595-5242 or dforbes@apwa.net.

See you next year at the North American Snow Conference, April 26-29 in Des Moines!

Ashley Scherzer can be reached at (816) 595-5214 or ascherzer@apwa.net.

Listen to Snow Conference highlights from APWA President Larry Frevert, Mark DeVries and Bret Hodne at The Winter Maintenance Podcast (www.WinterMaintenance.com). Hear Larry's thoughts on appreciation of public works personnel. Mark and Bret talk about the Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Award and their trips to Europe sharing winter maintenance practices. They also provide a glimpse into Kentucky Derby Night at Churchill Downs, the Louisville Int'l Airport tour and closing thoughts on another successful Snow Conference. A podcast is like a radio talk show, but distributed free over the Internet. You can listen when and where you want using your computer, MP3 player or iPod.