First Day of APWA

Photo of the dancers in the APWA New Orleans parade
Photo of the dancers in the APWA New Orleans parade

Yesterday my husband and I attended the opening day of the 2008 annual APWA Congress, held this year in New Orleans. APWA always schedules outstanding speakers for their general sessions, and yesterday was no exception. Benjamin S. Carson, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon, gave an inspiring talk about taking risk and how it affects our lives. One of his remarks hit home with me. He told us how at one pivotal point in his academic career when things were a little tough, a counselor tried to talk him out of going into medicine. Of course, Mr. Carson did not take his advice and went on to become an outstanding doctor.

How many times did someone try to give me bad advice about choices in my life? The first time was early in my engineering career when I had gotten an Associate degree and was looking for work as a civil engineering technician. An older and well-respected engineer in my community met with me and seriously told me that civil engineering was a dying field. If I really wanted to stay in the engineering field, I should switch to petroleum engineering – that was where the future was for engineers. Wow, good thing I didn’t listen to him.

The next time I received more advice like this it came from closer to home – from my mother. I was only a year away from graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, and I happen at that time to be facing a few challenges in my life – personally and financially. Her advice: quit school and give up your dream of being an engineer. Find some nice young man and settle down. That close to achieving my degree, there was no way I could actually take her seriously no matter how upset she was that I did not follow her advice.

The last time someone tried to talk me out of doing something, I did take their advice, eventually realized how wrong they were, and finally decided once and for all to politely listen to people who try to talk me out of things and then do my own assessment of the situation and follow only that. Fortunately that time only involved a sales clerk who talked me out of creating a tiled shower – he said it couldn’t be done, and at the time I was too young and inexperienced in building to realize that tiled showers are created every day. So at least I only missed out on a tiled shower and not a career opportunity.

But I started to wonder, how many other people are talked out of following and achieving their goals by others who give them poor advice or try to discourage them from facing up to adversity and following through. And why do people do this? People question why the United States seems to be losing ground with education and achievement, and yet it seems we are our own worst enemies.

The final speaker I listened to yesterday was Carole Copeland Thomas. She focused on helping others do well and empowering ourselves and our colleagues to achieve goals. So I thought is was interesting how I went from hearing the problem in the morning to focusing on the solution in the afternoon. (To Dr. Carson’s credit, he and his wife are also working to overcome our nation’s slide into oblivion by running the Carson Scholars, a foundation that recognizes achievement in young people.)

I was also able to speak with several exhibitors and collect information about fuel management systems and stormwater components – two of the primary purchases I am focusing on at the moment. And finally the day ended in true New Orleans style with a Mardi Gras type parade from the convention center to the aquarium where we were treated to traditional New Orleans cuisine.


Workshop Orientation

On Wed., Aug. 20, 2008, members of the Public Works Group will be giving a presentation at the American Public Works Association (APWA) Annual Congress & Exposition in New Orleans. The presentation is a workshop to introduce other public works professionals to virtual worlds and other online Web 2.0 tools. In preparation for the workshop, those who have registered have been invited to sign up for a free Second Life account and visit us on Public Works island. We will be hosting visitors and helping orient them to Second Life on Sat., Aug. 2, 2008, between 1pm and 5pm. If anyone else is interested in joining us, please feel free to register for an account at the Public Works Group Web site and stop by Public Works island. If you are already a member of Second Life and have an interest in Public Works, we invite you to stop over and hang out with the rest of us. And if you are going to attend this year’s Congress in New Orleans, consider signing up for the workshop.


Control the Snow – Part 2

Continuing on with a synopsis of a few of the sessions I recently attended at the APWA Snow Show held in April of this year in Louisville, Kentucky:

One of the great benefits of attending a conference is the chance to find out what is new in our industry from others who are already using these tools and products. For me, some of the products I discovered at the show were the APWA training DVDs covering snow control and removal. Although I had previously seen these discs at past shows, I never really knew much about the product. A disc sitting on a shelf does little to convey the content within, and I had never really seen anything offering more information about the DVDs.

Fortunately one of the sessions I attended presented in detail how the training videos were developed, showed examples of the content, and then demonstrated the ease of use and interactive interface.

Mark DeVries from McHenry County Division of Transportation and Steve Gannon with GanTek Multimedia discussed how an APWA snow and ice committee met in January 2006 to help develop the products with funding from Clear Roads. AASHTO is managing the computer based training project.

The Winter Maintenance CBT Suite is made up of the following topics:
– Equipment Maintenance (released July 2007)
– Proper Plowing Techniques (released Sept. 2007)
– Deicing (soon to be released)
– Blowing Snow Mitigation (released March 2008)
– Winter Maintenance Management (scheduled for release in June 2008)

Each DVD covers one topic and can be set up by an organization to be available for their entire staff to use at their own pace. After finishing each DVD and successfully passing, each member of the staff receives a certificate of completion.

Without having seen the demo given at the session, I would have never realized how professionally done, interactive, and easy to use these training DVDs really were. Training is important for our industry as older and more experienced workers retire and more regulations and rules add to the knowledge base required for us to perform our job. And now in today’s world, the need to conserve energy and decrease trips adds to the benefit of CBT products. It definitely is a product that my department can make good use of.

More information about the training videos can be found by clicking here.


Control the Snow

In today’s world, rapid changes in technology are even reaching into the world of snow and ice control. I just spend three days at the annual APWA Snow Show in Louisville, Kentucky, and learned an incredible amount of new information to take back home.

On the first day, Richard Hanneman from the Salt Institute introduced a new software tool that can be used by an agency to determine the most cost effective chemical to use. This program, offered by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) as NCHRP Report 577, requires the user to input the costs of the chemicals to be considered along with the importance of cost, performance, the environment, or infrastructure. Using this information, the model predicts which chemical most likely meets the users objectives with respect to those four parameters.

Hanneman showed the outcome of two different scenarios. The first had the following assigned percentages for each objective: Price, 45%; Performance, 35%; Environment, 11%; Infrastructure, 9%. The outcome using current market pricing was that above 15 degrees F, salt earned a score of about 90 while the other products only reached about 60-70. Once the temperature dropped below about 10 degrees F, Magnesium Chloride moved up to a score of about 90 while salt dropped significantly.

Then he showed what happens if cost is not a factor changing the priorities to: Price, 0%; Performance, 25%; Environment, 37.5%; Infrastructure, 37.5%. The outcome was that above 15 degrees F, all products clustered close to scores of about 60-65. Below about 5 degrees F, Potassium Acetate moved up to a score of about 70.

For some reason, the TRB Web site was not working well when I wrote this. I found a place to download the tool at the Salt Institute Web site. You can access that link here:

(The download link is at the bottom of the page.) Tune back in later for more about the show….