Taking the time to prepare for winter during ideal weather conditions maximizes success when the real weather threats strike. On Oct. 16, 2019, various agencies and departments across the city of Lubbock, Texas, came together to participate in an annual winter weather exercise.
According to Lacey Nobles, public information officer for the city of Lubbock, “Training takes place as residents are coming out of summer and very few are thinking about the upcoming colder weather.”
The winter weather training actually began two to three days prior to the annual meeting when the National Weather Service in Lubbock distributed mock weather reports to each department. Updates related to weather development were provided periodically throughout the days leading up to the in-person meeting. It should be noted that the forecast provided for the exercise was authentic to the area, having occurred only a matter of years ago.
On Oct. 16, participants met at the emergency operations center, or the EOC. Each team met in its designated multimedia room. For instance, the department heads congregated in one room while the PIO’s from the different departments came together in the joint information center, or JIC. Decision-making is the responsibility of the executive policy group, which also met in a room of its own. All rooms are equipped with monitors and provide access to chat rooms and maps that feature updates in real time.
“While very important and serious in nature, these trainings are fun because participants are given the opportunity to implement procedures and protocols that were not necessarily a planned part of the previous year’s preparations,” indicated Nobles. For example, shortly after 2018’s annual training, the city of Lubbock was forced to deal with 10 inches of snow rather than the anticipated 1 inch. This means some procedures were put into action in 2018 during actual events that were not thought of in advance at that year’s annual meeting.
Thus, some of the procedures that proved to work well in 2018 made their way into the 2019 training. In the case of the department of communication and marketing, new practices include issuing warnings to residents such as avoiding certain overpasses or staying home and safely indoors. Importantly, citizens will be notified days in advance of imminent weather via social network platforms. Furthermore, the city manager’s office is tasked with evaluating city facilities and streets for potential closures and alerting the public to this information via various radio interviews. The examples previously described provide just one way of highlighting the various routes by which information will be communicated to the public.
“With every experience and training comes the occasion to involve more departments and agencies to ensure collaboration and effectiveness in order to maintain the safety and well-being of all involved,” stated Nobles. Admittedly, many departments and agencies that are crucial to the overall operations readily come to mind such as animal services, utilities, fire and rescue, police, health and water. As Nobles explained, the finance department “is equally important in instances when money needs to be freed up should extreme situations warrant.”
Equally relevant, an assessment of the training event and exercises takes place one to two weeks later and is referred to as a debriefing or after-action review. Various topics are discussed from what worked — and what did not — to new techniques and procedures that were tried and whether they should be added to an official checklist or scrapped. Moreover, consideration is given to the “quick fixes” with regards to issues that unexpectedly came up and how they were handled. And, of course, there is always room for continued improvements, which is a recurring theme at these meetings.
Fortunately, the 2019 training went well, especially considering the city of Lubbock was forced to confront an ice storm about a week later. It is the culminating efforts on the part of the office of emergency management, city manager’s office and the National Weather Service that these winter weather training events run as smoothly and effectively as they do. Preparation for success is the motivation for this annual exercise, with improved communication between the departments and public being the ultimate goal.
All in all, Nobles summed up the event well when she noted that “proactivity is necessary for minimizing mistakes … after all, weather can change very quickly.”