Winter operations guideline to help staff prioritize in extreme events

Heavy snowfall has left municipalities scrambling to keep up and planners wincing as they watch their snow removal budgets drain

Heavy snowfall has left municipalities scrambling to keep up and planners wincing as they watch their snow removal budgets drain at a rapid pace.

To deal with the severity of the recent snowstorms, Town of Ponoka crews have been working on a winter operations policy, said Dave McPhee, director of operations and property services. He told councillors during the regular council meeting Dec. 10 that this draft policy is a guide for staff to determine the next step. “I can’t give you complete times because every snow event is different.”

This guide mirrors the snow removal policy set by council last year and is meant to help staff prioritize most situations, McPhee explained. Getting feedback from crews was important to him as they are the ones on the front lines. “They’re on the road. They’re the ones that know what can be done.”

It took approximately one month for staff to bring this document together and would have been completed sooner if not for the extra snow this season, McPhee said. Despite being unable to provide times on completion of snow removal, he did tell councillors that crews would attend to a situation as fast as possible. “We’ll provide some type of maintenance within a 24-hour period.”

McPhee was reluctant to release the full document as the winter policy is still being refined but he spent some time explaining some of the more important aspects of it during an interview. This policy is supposed to be set out by all groups responsible for roadways under Alberta Highway Transportation regulations. Guidance under Ponoka’s policy gives crews ways to determine the severity of a situation by rating the event and what is involved.

The winter operations policy identifies triggers in three categories:

●∙ Freezing rain or ice storm

● Heavy snowfall

● Snowstorms (blizzard)

Staff will then monitor the conditions of each of these triggers followed by actions to deal with them. The persons responsible for an area will be on hand to manage a situation. After the event is over, crews then look at concluding the work. Part of the policy involves McPhee and staff looking at “what worked and what didn’t.”

They need to consider how other departments were affected during a trigger event. McPhee said the challenge may come if there are two different emergencies at once and evaluating how one event may hurt another department. The document also considers the availability of staff and equipment when reviewing.

Each risk has received scoring depending on the type of trigger, the probability of something happening, the risk value and a priority ranking. These scores will give McPhee and town staff a way to determine how to respond.

As crews continue to work on clearing streets and removing snow piled up in windrows, more snow has been forecast for central Alberta. McPhee told councillors that town staff had created a sense of ownership with this document. “The guys asked for one more kick at it for response times.”

The snow removal budget for 2013 is $95,000 and about 50 per cent had been used before the heavy snowfall. Contractors have just started sending in their invoices so it is difficult to say how much has been used so far, explained Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services for the Town of Ponoka. There is a reserve of $80,000 as well.