New free snowfighting training materials

Richard L. Hanneman
President, Salt Institute

“If 300 pounds of salt per lane-mile will clear away ice and snow, 600 pounds per lane-mile will work twice as fast and twice as effectively.” Ever hear comments like that from your spreader operators? Hopefully, not. But 30 years ago, when the Salt Institute began its “Sensible Salting” program, that was the level of understanding and sophistication of some equipment operators we trained in our seminars. (By the way, the answer is, “False, if 300 pounds is what’s needed to melt ice and snow, any more is wasted and an unnecessary burden on the roadway environment.”)

How far we’ve come during these past three decades. Yet, how constant remain the challenges. Turnover demands recurrent efforts in education and training, particularly at both ends of the snowfighting management spectrum-elected policy-makers on the one hand and equipment operators on the other. And, “in between,” researching and selecting improved road equipment and computer systems, and evaluating alternative materials and application techniques challenge operations managers and supervisors. Record attendance at five major “snow and ice” management conferences, including APWA’s North American Snow Conference, Western Snow and Ice Conference (run by APWA’s Colorado Chapter), dozens of state-level LTAP training seminars, and hundreds of agency-run training sessions all attest to the continuing perceived need to prepare for winter roadway maintenance.

At the same time, resources to conduct training are not increasing fast enough. Some smaller agencies have concluded that training is just for “the big guys.” Many agencies lack trained trainers. Even larger cities are strapped in budgeting for snowfighter training. The FHWA helps fund technology transfer activities including 57 Local Technology Assistance Programs (LTAP), at least one per state. The LTAP Centers operate in partnership with APWA to meet the training needs of APWA member snowfighting agencies. But even the LTAP Centers face constraints in meeting the demand for snowfighter training.

Help is on the way. In fact, it’s here.

At their August annual meeting, LTAP trainers received a sneak preview of a new set of Sensible Salting training materials developed cooperatively by the Salt Institute and five snowbelt LTAP Centers. Since the 1970s, the LTAP Centers and many APWA member agencies have been using Salt Institute training materials, particularly The Snowfighters Handbook and the training video “The Snowfighters.” More recently, the Salt Institute posted the contents of the Handbook on its web site for free downloading (the video costs $20). Those materials as well as the new materials are now available on the Salt Institute’s web site at http://www.saltinstitute.org/snowfighting. They are free. And they’re good. The materials are suitable for use by agency trainers as well as LTAP seminar leaders.

Public works directors and senior managers will also find valuable that some of the materials are directed “up” to elected policy-makers in addition to the materials developed for public works personnel. That 70-slide program, “Winter Operations: Survival Lessons for Public Officials,” is directed to mayors, city councilors and city managers. It introduces them to the value of an effective, efficient and safe snowfighting program and to the problems, concerns and potential devastation of winter storms. Like David Letterman, it leaves them with ten lessons to enhance their snowfighting program-and their chances of re-election. The program updates and complements APWA’s brochure “Fight Winter and Win.”

The second program, “Winter Planning and Organization,” is directed to public works personnel. In 123 slides, it reviews the importance of winter operations and focuses on the importance of planning and organizing for winter operations. It emphasizes the need for a Comprehensive Winter Plan-and how to prepare one. The program can be used as the basis for training operators in any or all of the various component parts of the Comprehensive Plan.

The two programs were developed in Microsoft PowerPoint 97. Thus, trainers will find them familiar and flexible. They can be modified, customized, localized-even cannibalized. Trainers can use the entire program or just those slides that they want. And they can add or substitute their own photos to illustrate their own community and equipment. Each slide has instructor’s notes to guide the trainer-though it is intended for experienced presenters and is more in the nature of an outline than a script. Instructors will also want to customize the notes adding local references and their own personal experiences.

The PowerPoint programs are supported by handouts that can be used as easily-modifiable Microsoft Word files or .pdf files to preserve the graphics. One handout, “Think - Act - Be SAFE,” emphasizes worker safety practices. It is one of a series. Again, the trainer can select, modify and use any or all the handouts-or choose to use none at all. The PowerPoint and written handouts are each stand-alone products.

These are introductory materials. And they are the first of a series, the Salt Institute promises. The package includes an evaluation form which the Institute and its partners plan to use to fine-tune the format and level of detail available in future editions. The Institute will make a CD of the materials available for $20 as well, but the “magic” of a web site posting is not only that the materials are free and immediately available, they can also be customized by both parties-the developers as well as the users. As evaluations are received, the Institute will be able to make changes on the web site so that future users can enjoy an enhanced training package.

What could be better than professional quality, easily and immediately accessible, totally customizable training materials? Well, they’re free. And they are available right now-at the beginning of most agencies’ snowfighter “training season.”

Let us know how you like the programs and what materials you feel should be next in priority to add to them.

For more information, contact Richard Hanneman at 703-549-4648 or dick@saltinstitute.org.