It’s always easier to make the boss happy if you have a clear understanding of what it is he or she wants.
If you’re a snowplow driver, the road to meeting expectations starts with first knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, said Bryan Pickworth, road maintenance supervisor, Farmington Hills, Mich. “It’s not just to make the roads look pretty.”
At an APWA conference earlier this year, Pickworth and Kevin McCarthy, department of public works superintendent, Farmington Hills; Duane Poole, road foreman, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield, Mich.; and Thomas Trice, PWLF, director of public works, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield, Mich., and retired deputy city manager, Royal Oak, Mich., discussed what it is that snow crew managers think their drivers know, as well as what drivers should know about those expectations.
Overall, a manager expects that his or her crews will be able to deliver whatever snow removal and ice control services that the city requires, at the expected level. He expects to know the delivery cost of this service, purchasing information of the materials and equipment required to do the job, and for maintenance and repairs to be done to any city streets, facilities and snow fleet equipment that require it. Perhaps most of all, he expects — or at least really wants — to receive no angry phone calls from higher-ups during severe weather events.
Snow crews are also responsible for delivering other services that the city/town/village provides; for keeping the roads travelable for emergency service providers; and even for keeping the economy of the community stable by making it possible for residents to go to work, goods and services to flow and children to get to school safely.
It all starts with a plan
“The number one thing to do is know the chain of communication. Number two is know the chain of communication. Number three is know the chain of communication,” said McCarthy.
“From the laborer to the city manager and everyone in between, everyone has to know what’s going to happen for it not to be chaos. Even the schools, trash people… you can’t start anything without a plan.”
That plan should answer the following questions:
- Who is the first responder, called by whom?
- Who is called in and in what order?
- What is to be done? What are the priorities?
- What happens when the level of snow requires more resources — people, materials, equipment and time?
- What are the parameters for declaring a snow emergency?
- What special programs do you cover — downtowns, parking lots, buildings and facilities?
- Do you let your first responders know what your immediate and long-term plan is for the storm?
- Do you let the police know when you are done?
- Do you evaluate after each storm — did it go as expected?
Having the plan in checklist form is handy, vouched Poole. In the absence of the manager, it might become indispensable.
The plan should cover preseason as well. “Basically, we have to be prepared for everything. It’s so much more than snow removal,” said Pickworth.
Good managers ask themselves questions to gauge the department’s equipment readiness and mitigate potential the panic, such as: Right at this moment, is the equipment prepared and capable for all emergencies? What if there’s a disaster that takes several trucks out of service? How would that affect snow removal and the rest of the fleet? Would we be out of business? What measures need to be put in place in order to minimize the disruption of service?
The unthinkable does happen. On Good Friday of last year, the Madison Heights, Mich., garage went up in flames. Only a mutual aid agreement with South Oakland County kept the town’s roads clear while inspectors and insurance adjustors were assessing the damage.
Another factor in equipment readiness and effectiveness, Poole pointed out, is the manager’s relationship with the driver. The people who will actually be driving the equipment should be consulted before any new pieces are purchased and given the opportunity to express whether they think it’s the most effective option. Not only does two-way communication increase employee buy-in, but regular operators often have insight regarding details of equipment operation that don’t appear on paper. Additionally, the front office, aka city council, doesn’t always take into consideration whether or not maintenance on the particular vehicle in question is something the city’s current technician and mechanic pool is trained to handle.
“How many times have you seen specs come down on equipment that’s been purchased, but then it doesn’t get used?” asked Pickworth. “And if your mechanics can handle it, do you have a sufficient inventory of parts for them to use to keep it on the road? Are they cross-trained so the repair or maintenance can happen quickly, by whomever’s available? And are both your mechanics and operators properly trained and receiving updates?”
Chain of communication
We all know how the calls start coming in. The city manager or city councilman gets chewed out about unplowed streets: Since he’s hearing it, he calls or comes and sees the plow truck sitting there, and assumes someone’s not doing his job.
“Make sure, first off, that your office staff is trained for the big one so they’re able to explain the conditions and your procedures,” said Trice. “We take them out in the plows so they get an idea of what we go through.” In Bloomfield Township, the staff then knows the preferred way to contact drivers if there’s a question or concern. “They can text me and I can get it taken care of right away,” said Poole.
That first-hand view of what plow drivers have to deal with also goes a long way toward diff using the impatience of other municipal stakeholders in snow and ice management. “We had a new city councilwoman who was always peppering us with questions. We gave her a ride and now she’s our biggest supporter,” said McCarthy. “The same is true for the press.”
If the calls aren’t about a street not being cleared, then it’s accusations of “You filled my driveway!” and “You hit my mailbox!” Poole and Bloomfi eld headed off some of these by producing a simple YouTube video that airs on the local cable station. It demonstrates some of the constrictions of snow and ice removal and includes ways in which a homeowner can minimize the chance of either situation occurring.
“My number one priority is to make sure my manager gets no phone calls. It doesn’t always work, but that’s always my goal,” said Pickworth. “What he wants is clean, safe roads.” Clear roads keep the local economy moving, and the manager expects the snow crew to use the appropriate equipment and materials, well-trained personnel and plans to provide those services in a cost-effective, professional and efficient manner to serve the community.