Snow Conference memorable for all

"In my opinion this is one of the best conferences I have been to."

Becky Stein, CAE
Project Manager, Adult Education
APWA Kansas City Office

Before snow flies, rain freezes, or ice strikes, public works professionals prepare to make their streets as safe as possible for their citizens. This is a serious responsibility which means early mornings, working weekends, working 12-18 hours a day, and being on call at any given moment. With the recent budget cuts that have hit almost every public works department, it also means doing more and servicing more streets with less staff and resources.

That is why every spring, over 1,000 winter maintenance professionals gather together at the North American Snow Conference to share their experiences, learn from one another, and see what new tools are available to add to their arsenal.

This year's conference took place April 17-20 in beautiful Kansas City, Missouri, and was hosted by the Kansas City Metro Chapter of APWA. Superior education, a packed exhibit floor, gracious hosts, a fabulous closing celebration, beautiful spring weather, and excellent technical tours and demonstrations made for one of the best Snow Conferences to date.

"In my opinion this is one of the best conferences I have been to," said Bret Hodne, Superintendent of Public Works, City of West Des Moines, Iowa. "The facilities, educational sessions and vendor displays all exceeded my expectations. We probably had more interaction between the attendees than I have ever seen before. The Talk Show, roundtables and interactive educational sessions lead to an open environment that promoted discussions. This type of interaction seems to be what most of the attendees like to experience. They want an opportunity not only to listen to speakers talk, but to have the ability to ask questions about their respective issues and try to come up with ideas and new methods of doing things."

APWA President Tom Trice provided welcoming remarks at the 2005 North American Snow Conference.

The conference opened with Dennis Banka and Greg Bolon, Co-Chairs of the Kansas City Metro Chapter Snow Conference Host Committee, who welcomed everyone to Kansas City. Other dignitaries giving opening remarks included APWA President Tom Trice, Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks, and Larry Frevert, APWA Director-at-Large, Fleet and Facilities Management.

Opening General Session speaker Dr. Jeff Salz combined breathtaking photography and epic storytelling for a humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching approach to the topic of change and how to be inspired and not intimidated by it. One of today's authentic adventurers and explorers, Salz has traversed many of the remaining blank spots on the globe. Witty, humorous and engaging, Salz shared with the audience the best practices adventurers and explorers use to succeed and to manage risk and ever-changing conditions.

Following the Opening General Session, there were two rounds of packed educational sessions. The exhibit floor opened at 5:00 p.m. and featured 117 companies showcasing the very latest products and technologies necessary in snow and ice management and winter operations. "The vendor area always seemed to be hopping," said Hodne. "Many times at some conferences you see the vendor area die down after the first day or two. The interest level and activity remained high in this forum all the way through the show."

Each year the General Session presented in the "Talk Show" format continues to be a hit with attendees. This year's session, "Challenges We Face in the Winter Maintenance Business," was a lively forum between the panelists and audience discussing how they all are handling the challenges of dwindling budgets, equipment maintenance, and high expectations from the public.

The hottest topic again this year was anti-icing, ranging from discussions on how to use salt brine to results from experimental testing projects. Also popular were discussions on Quality Concepts in Winter Maintenance, Treated Salt and Cost Effectiveness, Updating Your Snow and Ice Control Procedures, and AVL/GPS/GIS Systems.

Snow Conference attendees listen to Bryan Townsend's humorous presentation on customer service.

For the Closing General Session, Dennis Banka and Greg Bolon, Co-Chairs of the Kansas City Metro Chapter Snow Conference Host Committee, and Dale Houdeshell, APWA Region VI Director, shared closing remarks, and Bret Hodne charged up attendees for next year's conference in Peoria, Illinois. Bryan Townsend, the Keynote Speaker for the session, was truly a hit with the audience with his hilarious perspective on customer service. Townsend refers to customer service as "the only job description you will ever need." According to Townsend, "the thing customers want most of all is value, and value is the work product of good service."

The closing Tuesday night event, "Blues & BBQ," was a big hit with all the attendees. The event was held at the home of the American Royal. One of the oldest and best-loved traditions in Kansas City, the American royal is also one of the largest combined livestock show, horse show, and rodeo events in the nation. Attendees enjoyed some of the best barbeque Kansas City has to offer, while jamming the night away to the sounds of those famous KC Blues with The Brody Buster Band.

On Wednesday morning there were two technical tours. One tour visited the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Operations Facility and Kansas City Scout Traffic Management Center. The Scout uses video cameras, roadway sensors, and message boards to monitor traffic conditions, send help to clear congestions, and provide traffic updates to drivers more quickly and in more ways than ever before. After viewing Scout participants were able to view equipment on display at MoDOT including MoDOT's prototype 12,000 pound monster tow-plow that can clear 30 feet of a road at one time, replacing three large trucks.

Bret Hodne conducts the anti-icing demonstration at the Lee's Summit Technical Tour.

At the second tour, over 100 people toured the City of Lee's Summit's New Solid Waste and Street Maintenance Facility. Attendees were able to see firsthand how the architectural design of the new maintenance facility has enhanced working conditions, increased work efficiency, and reduced costs for the City. Attendees were also able to view real hands-on anti-icing demonstrations. People rotated from a presentation led by Wilfrid Nixon on anti-icing to a hands-on demonstration by Bret Hodne on equipment provided by the City of West Des Moines, Iowa. "This was not only an opportunity to talk with their peers about equipment, facilities and operations, but a chance to see it in action," Hodne said.

In short, this was an excellent conference as many attendees raved about the venue, the educational sessions, the general session speakers, the tour and the exhibit floor. A big "thank you" goes to all the volunteers of the APWA Kansas City Metro Chapter for all of their hard work before and during the conference to make it a truly memorable and unique experience for everyone. I would also like to thank the APWA Winter Maintenance Subcommittee for providing guidance on a truly exceptional education program.

See you next year at the 2006 North American Snow Conference on April 30-May 3 in Peoria, Illinois!

Becky Stein, CAE, can be reached at (816) 595-5212 or bstein@apwa.net.