SICOP: Computer-based training for RWIS/anti-icing

Richard J. Nelson, P.E
District Engineer
Nevada Department of Transportation


Throughout the United States there have been a variety of training programs developed for snow and ice control technology. Many of these training programs are based on traditional snow and ice control strategies and technologies. However, when road weather information system (RWIS) technology and anti-icing techniques broke onto the scene during the mid-1990s, a training void developed. As a result, a variety of vendors and product suppliers emerged with their own specific training programs. However, these training programs are generally limited in scope. They fail to provide agencies with a uniform training approach to the decisions required to execute an anti-icing program utilizing RWIS.

From the very beginning of the Snow and Ice CoOperative Program (SICOP), training in the use of RWIS and anti-icing techniques has been a top priority of the steering committee. Training in this area should include all aspects of RWIS technology and anti-icing techniques necessary to make sound decisions during winter maintenance operations. A variety of agencies and institutions nationwide began addressing this training shortfall.

One of the challenges in developing a comprehensive program of this type was to take into account the abundant variety of vendor-specific equipment, individual agencies’ equipment fleet composition, agency-specific policies regarding winter maintenance, and the unique types of winter events facing each agency. Secondly, the target audience for this program cuts across many levels of a maintenance organization, from equipment operator to maintenance supervisor to maintenance engineer. To reach each group, a variety of adult education techniques had to be used. Lastly, the program needed to be economical.

Clearly there was an opportunity to create a comprehensive program that could be tailored to each agency’s needs utilizing multimedia training applications and state-of-the-art adult education principles.

Basis of the training

As the Strategic Highway Research Program project to Develop Anti-icing Techniques (SHRP H-208) got underway, a training package was developed by the contractor for presentation to the maintenance agencies participating in the project. This package presented the basics of anti-icing and how to utilize weather forecasts and RWIS technology to make anti-icing decisions. At the conclusion of the SHRP H-208 project, the Federal Highway Administration continued the work begun through their Training and Evaluation Project numbered 28 (TE-28). As a result of this combined four-year effort, the Manual of Practice for an Effective Anti-icing Program (FHWA Contract No. DTFH61-93-Y-00123, Office of Engineering Research & Development, FHWA, McLean, VA) was developed.

The initial training package developed and utilized by SHRP and FHWA TE-28 along with the Manual of Practice form the root of material presented in this training program. In 1998-1999, Nevada Department of Transportation maintenance workers tested this training concept by delivering the program to the local work force though a train-the-trainer design. This program was considered a success as it modified the behavior of the work force. Better decisions regarding time of treatment, strategy used, and chemical use were documented.

Training model

Unlike traditional training programs where students attend lectures and the flow of information is basically one way, this program is intended to be highly interactive, allowing students to make decisions and watch the consequences of their decisions play out. As each module builds on the previous one, students will have to demonstrate a degree of proficiency in understanding and decision-making before advancing to the following module.

Since real-world snow fighting isn’t “closed book,” this training program isn’t either. Job aids are developed for each piece of technology and to assist the decision-makers in making their real-life decisions. The purpose of the job aids is to provide the decision-makers with clear and concise information without referring to a multi-page reference text. They are one page each and laminated to survive the rigors of winter maintenance.

Suggestions and examples of data collection techniques to capture actual pre-storm, storm, and post-storm decisions are offered in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the decisions actually made. This is an important concept in providing feedback to the training program. Modifications can then be made to improve the program in future years on an agency-by-agency basis.

Multimedia computer-based training program

The strength of this training program lies in the utilization of multimedia computer-based training technology currently available. The power in grounding this training program in this technology allows for the development of dynamic training tools that will have an extended shelf life. In other words, this training program can grow and evolve as our understanding of the technology of winter maintenance grows and the tools used for winter maintenance change. This program will possess the following attributes.

  • As a multimedia computer-based training (CBT) program, it can be delivered in a classroom setting or as a self-paced program. This allows students to work at their own pace (either alone or in small teams) and greatly reduces the cost per student for delivery.
  • It can be easily tailored to match the agency’s current winter maintenance program, policies, and equipment.
  • It is expandable to include additional material as it becomes available over time through national research or as the agency’s own experiences grow. Curriculums can be added that cover decision-making, RWIS/anti-icing reference material, and any vendor-specific training for their programs.
  • The program contains a full set of updateable RWIS/anti-icing reference material based on each region’s winter storm conditions.
  • It contains practice storms for decision-making.

Train-the-trainer program

Utilizing a train-the-trainer methodology to deliver this program to an agency’s staff has many benefits. It utilizes champions of the technology to present the material, creating local expertise in the technology. These local experts are then available during actual winter maintenance operations to assist in the utilization of the technology and decision-making. Often, the material is more accepted by the work force if individuals the maintenance crew knows and works with present it in the context of local experience.


The development of this training program has begun through the cooperation of SICOP, AURORA, and several governmental agencies through the AASHTO Pooled Fund program.

Unlike traditional training programs, this program will provide students with the necessary skills to utilize RWIS technology to make good decisions during winter maintenance operations. With the delivery of this comprehensive training program, agencies can greatly accelerate the successful implementation of a program of RWIS/anti-icing.

For more information, contact Richard Nelson at 775-834-8344 or