Sharing the snow pain

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When it snows, all eyes turn to the 460th Civil Engineer Squadron for plowing the roads and keeping the pathways leading to work areas safe.

The goal of the 460th CES is to provide the base populace timely road condition updates and safe passage. However, we are limited to the amount of snow we can safely handle using the equipment and trained personnel we have on hand.

CE follows an approved Base Snow Plan which lays out which roads and parking lots get cleared on a priority basis. Priorities are determined by mission and critical services needed. The base civil engineer, group commanders and other wing leadership annually provides input for the Base Snow Plan, and the wing commander approves it. Using this plan, our limiting factors are: amount of snow and the rate at which it falls, working equipment and trained personnel.

The average snowfall for a typical Colorado winter is 41 inches. We've exceeded that amount with the last two heavy snow storms. With the snow removal equipment we have, it enables us to remove two to 10 inches of snow during normal snow conditions.

Obviously our recent weather has been very severe. When a storm is intense, it hampers the equipment's effectiveness, and reduces the number of roads and parking lots we can plow. The harder it snows, the less likely we are to plow lower priorities because we must keep the priority areas open.

Anyone that has shoveled snow knows it varies in weight. The snow removal equipment we have varies in its ability to move amounts of snow. If the snowfall is a light, fine, powder the majority of our plow trucks will work effectively. But when the snow is heavier, the lighter plows can't push the weight, so we must use heavier trucks, and there aren't many of those. If we use lighter trucks, we risk damaging the equipment.

When a snow storm hits with the severity of the last two in 2006, equipment does break and we're at the mercy of off-base businesses that provide limited resources to replace broken parts. And we must wait in line along with state, county, and city plow equipment that breaks down.

An item of conversation is where plows deposit the snow. During the plowing, all this snow must be displaced off the roads and is often pushed onto sidewalks and other travel areas. This can't be helped, and we ask for your understanding and assistance to keep your building entry ways, and sidewalks clear.

Our Material Control office can supply your building facility managers with snow shovels, deicer, and other equipment to help. Each building facility manager is responsible for managing the area 100 feet from a building. This includes appearance and snow removal from sidewalks and steps.

Not everyone in CE can be trained to handle every type of snow removal equipment, as training can only be accomplished when it snows. For instance, there are only eight to 10 civilians or military personnel working in the heavy equipment shop. They are trained to use the heaviest of the equipment, such as dump trucks, graders, and bulldozers. The rest of the snow removal crews are made up of administrative, environmental, engineering and dorm management personnel. Because of equipment restrictions, they normally drive the lighter snow plows.

Managing all this during an impending snow storm goes something like this: During the entire snow season, crews are on a rotating stand by list with each crew having a twelve-hour shift. There is one day shift, one night shift and one shift that is off at anytime. Anytime there is a 30 percent chance for snow or greater, the "snow boss" monitors its progress and manages the crew to handle the storm.

If a snow is projected for late afternoon or night, the night snow crew must be released from duty to rest before coming in to plow. The crew who is off continues to work normal CE operations during the duty day and handles emergencies after hours.

During the night shift, the snow boss is responsible for contacting the wing commander by 4 a.m. to provide a status. Based on this information, the commander decides to allow normal base reporting, delayed reporting or a base closure. This information is given to the snow line, and by 5 a.m. the snow line is updated with reporting instructions. Local radio and TV outlets are also informed during a delay or closure.

Snowstorms that last for extended periods of time take both day and night crews out of normal CE operations and place them solely on snow removal duties. Rest assured, our crews continue to work even if the majority of the base populace has been released. The first heavy snow had our day and night crews working 38 hours straight. Crews were kept on base the entire time, and slept in the dormitory and fire department.

The purpose of this article isn't to elicit your sympathy, but to provide you with information with regards to our responsibility and capability during the winter season. With your understanding of our limitations, perhaps you'll tolerate the inconveniences the base endures during this above-average snowfall season.

To read a related story about the Buckley Snow Line and inclement weather reporting procedures, click here.