Laurel Public Works gears up for winter

Months before the first snowflake of 2012 threatens to touch down in Laurel, the city's Department of Public Works is hard at work preparing for the worst: a second coming of the 2010 monster snowstorm known as Snowmaggeddon.

Although the storm caught some areas of the country off-guard, Deputy Director of Public Works Rob Ferree said Laurel was not one of them.

"Laurel fared pretty well during that snowstorm," Ferree said. "We were ready for it, so not much has changed in our preparation."

According to Deputy City Administrator and Emergency Service Coordinator Marty Flemion, for Laurel, success in snow preparation comes from coordinated planning.

"The management of personnel along with the maintenance and repair of equipment are key to successfully responding to blizzards," Flemion said.

For 2012, the city has budgeted approximately $87,000 for snow removal, which covers overtime; equipment repairs; and materials like salt, calcium chloride and sand.

Flemion and Ferree said the planning process for the city's snow removal preparation begins in early fall, when the Department of Public Works meets to discuss potential infrastructure that could be at risk and the current status of snow removal equipment.

"In October we get hands on all our equipment," Flemion said. "From the mounted plows, to the salt spreaders, to the snowblowers, we put them through paces to make sure they are up and running."

While ensuring that the city's snow removal equipment is important, Flemion acknowledged that the machinery is only as good as the person operating it, as the city also places all snow removal personnel through a yearly review.

Flemion said the city relies on the Salt Institute's "Snowfighter's Handbook" as the basis for its snow removal operations because of the emphasis it places on hands-on training.

Ferree said all Public Works employees, even the most experienced snow removal operators, are put through a refresher course on operations before every winter season.

And, thanks to the approximately 30 inches dropped on the city in February 2010, Laurel's "snow fighters" have new equipment on which to be trained.

During that storm, Flemion said Public Works spent $76,000 on the emergency purchase of two Bobcats, which have since been incorporated as integral parts of the city's snow removal plan.

"The Bobcats add a new twist to our snow removal plan," Flemion said. "We use them to open narrow streets and courts in the newer developments. With large amounts of snow, navigating a truck with a traditional plow is physically impossible."

Flemion said the two Bobcats, which are the only two in the city's 21-vehicle snow removal fleet, provide the snow removal plan with an added wrinkle.

"These Bobcats are very nimble machines," Flemion said. "They will continue to work with us in any level of a snowstorm. Whether it is a couple of inches or a foot or better, these Bobcats will be employed in all storms now."

In addition to purchasing the Bobcats, Public Works has also shelled out $3,200 for six new, larger and more effective snowblowers to help clear sidewalks in front of city-owned property.

By city ordinance, all city property owners are required to clear the sidewalks in front of their property within 12 hours of the cessation of snowfall.

When it comes to clearing streets, Flemion said the city adheres to a prioritized list of roads that coincides with its two main goals.

"The primary objective is always making sure that fire, EMS and law enforcement have access to all the neighborhoods," Flemion said. "Then comes citizen movement, allowing people to leave their homes and get where they need to go."

Monitor and respond

Another key to the city's quick mobilization in response to storms is the Emergency Operations Center, which, depending on the severity of the conditions, can open in three phases: limited, moderate and full.

Flemion said most instances only require a limited or moderate opening, but for Snowmaggeddon, the EOC was open in full for four days.

"The purpose of the EOC is to provide support for Public Works," Flemion said. "In a snow emergency, the Department of Public Works is the primary responder, and it is the job of the EOC to provide them logistics they need to accomplish their mission."

One tool the city and the EOC uses is a subscription to a weather service, which provides real-time updates on developing winter storms.

During the winter, Ferree said Public Works has a crew of 12 on standby 24 hours a day and seven days a week in case a storm hits.

Stocked with 400 tons of salt, 1,000 pounds of calcium chloride and lots of sand, Ferree and Public Works are prepared for the elements.

In extreme cases like 2010, Ferree said Public Works recruits personnel from other departments, like Parks and Recreation, to help in snow removal.

Flemion said although the added equipment will make a difference in preparations, blizzard conditions always challenge Public Works.

"Even with these changes, the resources of the city will no doubt be strained during blizzard conditions," Flemion said. "During blizzards, the staff are operating under very strenuous and tiring conditions, and the equipment used takes a beating."

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