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While parts of the northeast and New England recover from the aftermath of a serious ice storm, how prepared is your department for severe winter weather? You may be in the south and say, "I don't live in an area that is in the snow region." In 2008, it snowed in Las Vegas for the first time in five years, as well as in other southern regions.
Preparing for stormy weather should already be part of your all-hazard emergency planning and as such should not require too much effort to make it useable for winter.
Preparing vehicles, facilities and people
Since winter weather always makes driving difficult, the first area to be covered is the department's fleet. If you are in the north, part of the fall routine is the mounting of snow tires or new all-weather tires, fluid checks and changes, and checking tire chains. Many vehicles today don't have the clearance needed for reinforced tire chains and require the use of cable chains. This is better found out now, before a big snow storm. Coordination with your motor pool or garage is important to make sure that they have an adequate supply of parts that will need replacement during the winter, such as windshield washer solution and wiper blades. Are agreements in place for the towing of police vehicles that get stuck in the snow?
Along with motor vehicle equipment, check to see that there is an adequate inventory of other consumable items that will be needed, such as flashlight batteries, portable radio batteries, road flares, first aid supplies, etc. If you run out of supplies during a winter storm and you try to order emergency supplies, it's a good bet that
- Other agencies are ordering the same items you are,
- That the vendor will be out of that item, and
- The roads may not be passable for a few days and the supplies cannot be delivered, even if they are available.
Check to see that the requirements of your facility are being addressed. Has the heating plant been serviced for the winter? If heating oil is used, is there an adequate supply? Is there a back-up supplier if your primary dealer cannot supply you? The emergency generator should also be checked with the same concerns about fuel supplies also being addressed.
The needs of your officers need to be covered, too. With a winter storm there is good chance that personnel will be working extended or double shifts due to officers not being able to come to work. Are there plans in place for members to sleep over and to be fed?
Coordination with other public and private agencies is also required. This is not just among other emergency organizations, but also with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Their call-out and notification procedures need to be reviewed along with assurance that they have an adequate supply of salt, sand, de-icer, etc. Extra officers may also be required to assist road crews with post-storm snow clearing and debris removal. A review with the local utility providers is also beneficial, especially the electric provider, to see what contingencies they have in place for a prolonged outage due to a winter storm. Do they have a working mutual aid agreement with other electrical providers for restoring electrical service? Does your water and sewer authority have plans in place to deal with a prolonged power interruption of several days, affecting their pumping and processing plants?
A review meeting should be held with the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) and the Faith Based Community Organizations (FBCOs) in your jurisdiction before winter. These VOADs and FBCOs will most likely handle the majority of the emergency sheltering and feeding needs at activated shelters as a result of the storms. If you have a major highway going through your town, what sheltering needs are going to be needed for stranded motorists, besides your own residents?
Coordination will also be needed among the emergency services in your town. Is there a point, if the storm is bad enough, that all first-responders would remain in their stations and not respond until the storm passes, as in hurricanes?
The local news media needs to be involved. Winter weather emergency preparedness information should be distributed to both the print and electronic media. They should advise the public against calling 9-1-1 to inquire about road conditions or if school is cancelled.
Schools, both public and private, as they often have different policies on weather related closings or altered schedules, need to be included in winter storm planning. The schools need to have in place a notification system to notify families so they do not overload the police department asking about school closings. Also the school must notify the police department of any changes to the school to ensure that school crossing posts are covered.
As with all other emergency incidents, a little pre-event planning will go a long way in preventing a winter storm from becoming a major disaster.