Written snow and ice control plans are essential for winter maintenance agencies

Duane E. "Dewey" Amsler, Sr., P.E.
AFM Engineering Services
Slingerlands, New York

Creating and maintaining an approved written snow and ice control plan is one of the most important things a highway maintenance agency can do for itself, its governmental entity, its community and its customers.

The primary benefits of creating and maintaining a plan and policy document include:

  • Agency managers and supervisors are forced to plan ahead. This avoids chaos when difficult situations arise and provides a framework for efficient and effective routine operations.

  • As a result of a good planning process, there will be a higher and more consistent level of service that results in increased safety, higher mobility (in general and for emergency services) and fewer "lost" days for the business, education, transportation and manufacturing sectors.

  • Managers, supervisors, maintenance workers and the governmental community at large will all be on the same page in terms of policy, operational procedures and operational issues.

  • Exposure to tort liability will be limited if the plan is reasonable, has realistic goals, is resource driven and is followed to the extent possible.

  • The public will have a clearer understanding of agency operations. This will generally result in reduced complaints and requests for service.

  • The agency will have a forum for continuous improvement and a basis for comprehensive training.

The benefits to governmental agencies, educational facilities and major employers having comprehensive written snow and ice control plans have long been recognized. Al Gesford, a Technology Transfer Specialist with the Institute of State and Regional Affairs at Penn State University, is a longtime advocate of carefully crafted written plans and policies. He helped create the "Winter Planning and Organization" section of the Salt Institute/LTAP Winter Maintenance Training Program. He also prepared a training document entitled "10 Lessons for Winter Operations Survival." This document focuses primarily on plan and policy issues. He has presented the essence of that document at many training forums throughout the country (including APWA North American Snow Conferences), and has inspired many agencies to create written policy documents.

While employed as the statewide Snow and Ice Control Manager for the New York State Department of Transportation, I was fortunate to be assigned the task of updating the department's written snow and ice control plan and policy. We employed a committee process to blend new technology and ideas with existing policy. The process took about two years to complete. Since its implementation, I have had scores of occasions to provide expert testimony on that document as it related to particular snow and ice claims against NYSDOT. As long as the guidelines in the policy were followed to the extent possible, there has been virtually no successful litigation.

The experience of three agencies that have crafted comprehensive snow and ice control plan and policy documents is instructive:

Indiana Department of Transportation
Tom Konieczny, LaPorte District Highway Management Director for INDOT, offers the following about the creation and implementation of a comprehensive snow and ice control plan and policy:

"In 2000, after seeing many exciting innovations in snowfighting around the country, Indiana DOT made a commitment to modernize its winter maintenance efforts. We created a Winter Operations Team to review and disseminate information which leads to recommendations regarding snow and ice removal materials, equipment and activities. One objective was to provide more consistent service on a state-wide basis. As part of this effort, the team prepared the 2003 Total Storm Management Manual as a tool that provides guidelines and options in an effort to keep Indiana highways open and safe during the winter season. The manual covers a wide range of topics: administrative and management issues, equipment, snow and ice control materials, weather information systems, storm operations, and miscellaneous issues such as training aids and reports. It is a resource that has everything needed in one location. It is both for the novice and the veteran. Although initially there was some reluctance to change, most of our employees have noticed a difference and have embraced our new direction. It has delivered us from a reactionary agency to one that is proactive and innovative and striving to enhance safety, mobility and economic growth for our customers."

Tom further indicates that most of the benefits listed above have, in fact, benefited INDOT. The INDOT manual is available at: http://rebar.ecn.purdue.edu/JTRP/ under "JTRP Products."

Rockland County, NY Highway Department
Charles H. "Skip" Vezzetti is the Superintendent of Highways for Rockland County, NY. Skip's first exposure to the benefits of a written plan and policy was at an APWA North American Snow Conference about 20 years ago while he was Highway Superintendent for the Town of Orangetown, Rockland County, NY. He remembers the liability-limiting potential as being a good reason to start the process. With broad-based input, he crafted a written policy for Orangetown. The scope of the policy grew and eventually contained a comprehensive materials management plan that allowed the Town to win several "Excellence in Storage" awards from the Salt Institute. During his current tenure with Rockland County, he created a similar, but more comprehensive, written plan and policy. That policy is on the County web page at: http://www.co.rockland.ny.us/Highway/hwydocs/Snow%20and%20Ice%20Control%20Policy%202002.pdf.

Skip feels that the policy is a great internal and external communications tool that helps maintain uniformity of service and keep his "customers" informed. The County receives very few complaints about its snow and ice control services. The commitment to excellence that drove the creation of plan and policy has had important spinoffs in terms of keeping the highway forces up-to-date regarding innovative equipment, ground speed-controlled materials application, and level of service-appropriate strategies and tactics.

Township of Cranberry, PA Highway Department
Duane McKee is the Director of Public Works for the Township of Cranberry. In 2004 the Township decided to create a snow and ice control plan and policy that would help them in materials management, public communication/acceptance and provide a tool for modernizing operations and equipment. The Township went about it in a little different manner. It hired a consultant with significant experience in creating snow and ice control plans to assist them through the process.

The Township created a diverse committee including representatives from several stakeholding departments, Township managers, highway supervisors and equipment operators to provide input and review material provided by the consultant. As the Township had to provide little staff time, the process only took about two months from start to final draft.

A separate but integral part of Cranberry's snow and ice plan is a materials management plan. The plan uses situational analysis and identifies all of the business practices employed to minimize environmental pollution.

Since implementation, Cranberry has used the plan and policy as a primary training document. Duane feels that there has been significant improvement in providing a uniform level of service and a much better understanding of operational policies. This has resulted in fewer snow and ice service complaints. The plan is available on the Township web page at http://www.twp.cranberry.pa.us/publicworks/SNOWICECONTROL04.pdf.
Using the plan as a roadmap for continuous improvement, Cranberry is phasing in ground speed controllers and truck-mounted pavement temperature sensors through new equipment buys. They installed a "poor man's RWIS" (a $20 bulb thermometer cemented into an area of the parking lot) that provides surrogate pavement temperature information to assist in determining ice control treatments on the roads. Chemical application rates are now designed to reflect current pavement temperature, weather conditions, and the presence or absence of ice/pavement bond.

Much of the information above, and more information on policy and planning documents, can be found on the following website: http://www.saltinstitute.org/21.html.

On October 18, APWA will present a Click, Listen & Learn webcast with Dewey Amsler and Dave Bergner entitled "Crafting a Written Snow and Ice Plan." Dewey Amsler gave two presentations on this topic at the 2007 APWA North American Snow Conference in St. Paul, Minn. He can be reached at (518) 489-6055 or damsler3@nycap.rr.com.