DNV Snow Command uses planning, technology and experience to keep streets safe

By District Staff on Thursday, Jan 20, 2022

When icy conditions or winter storms are in the forecast, our crews are already prepped and ready to roll.

 “The planning starts in August,” says Mike Blackmon, foreman, streets department. “We can’t stop the snow and ice, but we can be prepared to quickly respond to the winter conditions and keep our streets safe for everyone.”

The pre-winter checklist includes everything from ordering salt and tuning up the fleet to training new staff, updating the priority route map for clearing snow, liaising with partner groups about clearing and de-icing shared roadways and making winter bus route plans with transit.

Forecasting snow and ice  

The DNV uses state-of-the-art technology to monitor weather and road conditions to stay a step ahead of the snow and ice.

With three weather stations strategically located at different elevations across the District, the Snow Command team gets real-time access to air and road temperatures and road-grip conditions. Each station also has a camera so they can see current conditions at each location.

Weather station temperature alarms are set to automatically notify staff – day or night – about changing conditions so they can respond rapidly and efficiently.

“We know exactly when the temperature is coming down and can deploy trucks on an as-needed basis, saving unnecessary time and resource costs,” says Blackmon. “If we know when the snow is coming, we pre-salt roads. That buys us a lot of time. Then, we can stay on it and stay ahead of it.”

Ground game

While the streets team focuses on main routes for busses and vehicles, parks department crews are busy clearing and salting school zones and drop-off areas, high-priority sidewalks, bike lanes and multi-use pathways and the bridge-deck sidewalks and stairs that connect with them. To ensure students and teachers can safely access the 30 school properties within the District boundaries, crews start work at 4am.

“We want to get the school zones ready for the morning commute,” says Steve Baker, construction foreman, parks department. 

“We are also very committed to having our multi-use pathways and bike lanes cleared early so our residents can get to and from work or home if that is their primary means of transportation.”

Meet the crew and fleet

The DNV has a large fleet ready to tackle snow and ice before, during and after a storm or freeze, including six 3-ton trucks, three 5-ton trucks and a cavalcade of tandem trucks and backhoes.

A giant mountain of salt (2,000-3,000 tonnes used in a typical year) at the operations centre and a new fully-automated brine machine that can produce 10,000 litres per hour are ready to load and refill the trucks.

Depending on the storm severity, streets has approximately 40 crew members on deck to work 12-hour shifts 24/7 until the roads are clear.  

At the same time, up to 20 parks staff can be out hand-salting and using various snow-clearing equipment, including three ride-on mowers, a bobcat, a utility vehicle for parking lots, a backhoe and a 3-ton salt truck.

While technology plays an essential role in forecasting what’s coming, experience can be a difference-maker when responding to a storm

 “Drivers such as myself who have driven for 10, 20, 30 years know about the District’s micro-climates and know where to go right away if it snows. A big part of everyday life for our members with seniority in our departments is training the new crew and the staff,” says Blackmon.

With several significant snowfalls and icy conditions, especially at higher elevations, crews have been busy, often working around the clock this winter season. They are also keeping a close eye on the incoming weather reports.

“It’s a complete team effort – from the mechanics and drivers to parks crews clearing sidewalks and paths and the executive and Council who are very supportive of what we do,” says Blackmon.

 “We’re very proud of our team that goes out there and dedicates their time to keeping everyone safe.”

Learn what you can do to prepare for snow

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