Snow-response Plans: Are They Important?

A snow-response plan makes for an organized attack against snow and ice storms and helps your crews achieve maximum productivity.

Departments of transportation in states that see snow- or ice-covered roadways know the importance of a written action plan for scheduling workers to plow, salt and sand roadways that see literally thousands of vehicles during any given snow-event cycle. These departments must schedule thousands of workers and hundreds of pieces of equipment when a storm breaks out. City street departments also must properly schedule their people for an orderly method of attack when a snow or an ice storm occurs. Many managers will tell you that a written snow-response plan is vital to the success of their operation.

Physical-plant administrators, property managers and the heads of site-maintenance departments in those parts of the country that experience snowfalls each winter also understand that they need to remove snow from walks, driveways and parking lots to ensure the safety of people who must walk and drive on snow-covered roadways. Still, some managers of residential, commercial and industrial sites approach a snow event by the seat of their pants. I have heard maintenance-department managers boast about how organized they are when it comes to mowing a particular site in an orderly fashion. They also speak (with justifiable pride) about their cleaning plans and how they leave nothing to chance when keeping a facility neat and clean. However, when it comes to fighting snow or ice, they run around busily but may not have a structure or plan to systematically fight a snowstorm.

Developing a snow-response plan

Your first step is to designate an individual who will decide when to “call out the troops.” Gather information from on-site personnel about ongoing conditions at the site. Security guards, cleaning personnel and night workers all can tell you if it is snowing. Additionally, a reliable weather forecasting service or real-time radar updates can help you decide when to “roll the equipment.” The person to make the ultimate decision gathers the information, then (based on previously determined parameters) calls out the necessary personnel to fight the storm. Document these parameters and place them in a binder that is distributed to all people who might have occasion to take part in such decisions. This is the beginning of a formalized snow-response plan (SRP).

Additionally, the SRP should include the methods of fighting the storm. This will be the meat of the plan and should detail what equipment you will use and where, who will operate that equipment and which areas to clear first. The plan should be as specific as possible and should be minutely detailed. This will ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do if a crewmember cannot participate for any reason. This plan should be self-sufficient, so that anyone can follow its content and detail.

The plan should include such details as which sidewalks to be clear first and which direction the snowblower chute should face when clearing a walk. It should also provide instructions for a variety of scenarios: Should you clean the steps to building entrances right away, or should you wait until closer to opening time? What type of ice control should you use on walks, steps and doorways? How much product should be on the truck that services these areas, and how much should you use for each type of event, such as snow, ice or a mix of snow and ice? How many people are on a sidewalk crew, who is in charge of the crew and how often should the crew check into the “snow desk?”

The SRP should detail what to plow and with what equipment. What streets should you plow first, what parking lots need plowing and in what sequence? It should detail approximate start and stop times for each task depending on the severity of the storm. The plan can be specific enough to detail what maintenance procedures the equipment needs before and after the snow. This eliminates the need for one all-seeing, all-knowing individual being totally responsible for the actions of the entire crew. With a good SRP, everyone knows what to do and when, so there are no excuses for areas they missed or forgot.

Leave nothing to chance. The SRP is the key to a “smooth running machine” when it comes to snow or ice removal. In those areas of the country where little snow falls, this plan is imperative to achieve efficiency and maximum productivity from your crews. In areas of the country that receive less snow, the SRP can be a savior when the snow finally hits your area. The SRP should detail how you react to any type of snow or ice event at your site. Having these procedures in writing can be strong evidence of your ability to provide a safe haven for people who visit or work at your site.

Make sure everyone is on the same page

Distribute the completed SRP. A full and complete plan should be in the hands of the senior maintenance supervisor. Give additional copies to whoever is in charge of insurance coverage for the site, the legal adviser for the site, the person in charge of dispatching crews and the senior administrator. Distribute pared-down versions of the plan to plowing-crew leaders, salt-truck operators and sidewalk-crew leaders. These copies of the plan should detail routing procedures, plowing techniques, equipment distribution to various portions of the site, reporting procedures throughout the event and post-event-maintenance instructions for storing the equipment.

This SRP can become your salvation when incidents or accidents do occur on your site. If you are named in a slip-and-fall suit or an accident suit, the plaintiff’s lawyers will always ask about written procedures. Without written procedures, you are automatically on the defensive. You are then left to improvise your methods of reacting to slippery conditions, thus allowing a potential settlement to be considerably higher than it would have been. Insurance companies that are forced to defend the property owners love to have documentation of how you provide safe conditions on those areas under your control. It limits their “exposure.” Providing a complete and updated SRP to your insurance underwriter can lead to more favorable premiums, thus reducing costs.

An updated and written SRP allows everybody to work from the same point of reference. It creates an organized plan of attack to fight a snow or ice storm. It means that you won’t have to “improvise” as you go along during a storm. And it will make your site safer for all those on your site during inclement weather.

Is your snow-response plan in place?

John Allin is president of Allin Companies in Erie, Pa., and board president of the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). He has assisted numerous property managers around the country in writing and implementing snow response plans for their sites. He can be reached at 814-455-1752 or by email at

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