Winter Weather Safety – Resources for Braving the Storm of 2014

NOAA Frostbite Poster

Central and eastern sections of the U.S. have experienced snowfall and in some areas record cold over the last day or so. In a few locations, the temperatures have been so low that it has become dangerous to even be outside. However many government workers who provide essential services like police, fire, and snow removal still must brave the cold. If your government is looking for resources to help educate your community about staying safe during extreme weather conditions or if you are looking for information to give your workers to help them stay safe, check out the following agency sites for some winter survival tips:


Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety – this guide combines all of the key content of the CDC Winter Weather website into one downloadable, printable file. The CDC also has infographics, brochures, audiocasts, and other resources you can download and use in your public service messages. You can access this information through the sidebar at the link posted.



WINTER STORMS & EXTREME COLD site – here you can find many tips and advice for before, during, and after a winter storm

Winter Fire Safety – The US Fire Administration has some great resources to get the word out about fire safety during winter weather. They offer an infographic and social media messages and statistics you can post along with videos, audiocasts, and banners like the one at the bottom of this post.


NOAA: In addition to linking to NOAA's forecast page for your area, you can access and use the many resources NOAA offers on their site.


AAA: Tips for Safe Winter Driving Video – the video below was found on YouTube and can be embedded on websites or social media pages to offer citizens winter driving tips. You can also do a general search of YouTube to find other videos offering similar advice.


Additional Resources:

It's also useful to share the following types of information with the public. If you don't already have this information readily available, you can usually find it by searching on Google or Bing for the term and the name of your state or city and then offering the link for your local information. Also, some of this information may already be available from other departments at your city.


Warming Centers – It is common during winter storms to lose power. When that happens, you don't people wondering where they can go to keep warm. So it's useful to post this information ahead of time either on your website or on social media to remind people if they lose power, there are places they can go to avoid the cold. Here is the link to the one I found for our state by searching on Google for "warming centers" in Illinois: Keep Warm Illinois

Closings and Cancellations – extreme winter weather often results in closings and cancellations. If people can find out about these ahead of time, it might keep them from trying to head out in dangerous conditions. You can usually find a link to a site posting these by searching on Google or Bing and adding the name of your city or area in the search space. If your local radio or newspaper sites post a page with these, you can post a link to their page or you can always direct people to listen for closings and cancellations on a station if you know they announce them at regular times throughout the day. 

Pet Care Tips – The Humane Society offers tips and advice on how to take care of pets and wildlife during the winter. Providing a link to their site or to sites of similar organizations can help people keep their pets safe.

Frozen pipes or water meters – sometimes extreme cold can cause pipes or water meters to freeze. Because the process for dealing with this varies from agency to agency, you will need to prepare this information based on how your own area handles this type of issue. The typical type of advice to offer is:

  • How to find and turn off your main water valve in your home
  • Information about keeping drafts off pipes and other steps that can be taken to prevent frozen lines
  • Tips for thawing pipes
  • A number to call for help or information

Snow plowing updates – many communities now post regular updates on where plows are or which roads are open or closed and where there are parking bans. Again, this is highly localized information that is usually obtained by the public works department. Here are some examples of what other communities offer to keep citizens updated on road conditions and snow plowing operations:


Winter Storm Fire Safety


Paying the Price of Football 30 Years Later

Football Injury by Karpati GaborAfter watching two examples of extreme unnecessary roughness that appeared to risk permanent injury to two kids at a high school football game last night, I finally decided it was time to write a post about football and what it means to public works. Because our field is still very dependent on physical labor, it probably isn't a surprise that many employees in the public works field played high school football. Although, I had never really thought about what this would mean until I got into management. Many of the things we do can, at times, require significant physical dexterity, exertion, and strength. And when you become a supervisor you try to monitor your staff to be sure their condition is up to any task they are assigned to make sure they are safe and will not be injured. This is why it's a good idea to take any issues a person is having with their back, joints, or other body parts into consideration when assigning job duties. But, of course, part of the requirement for most public works jobs is to be able to continuously and regularly perform physically demanding tasks. So it becomes a balance of the employee trying to do what they can medically to remain in shape and the employer working with them as much as possible to accommodate them when they are experiencing a problem and need to recover.

While some ailments can show up as a natural part of aging, what I started to notice was that starting mainly in their 40s, the employees who played football in high school seemed to regularly have major problems with their backs, necks, joints, or other parts of their body. Over the years I heard many conversations between guys on our staff or guys out on construction in which they attributed specific problems they had to high school football – sometimes even to specific football injuries they remembered. Based on their stories, it also seemed their pain impacted not only their ability to work, but also their personal life on a regular and on-going basis. The pain and problems it caused seemed so bad for some, I had to wonder if they ever thought it was worth it. If they could go back knowing the end result, would they choose to spend a few years as a teenager playing a game and then pay the price for 20 to 40 years with regular and constant pain and challenges in completing everyday tasks? I realize when we are teenagers, it is very difficult to understand or even care about how we will feel when we are middle aged or older. And unfortunately our country embraces football like a religion so I doubt we will ever get to the point of actively warning kids about the permanent damage they can experience. But as a mother, it is definitely something I would not want or encourage for my child. I also know of other mothers whose children have been actively and regularly asked by coaches to participate in football because of their size and build, and those other families also chose to avoid the risk.

Again, because it is almost sacrilege in the U.S. to suggest anything negative about football, I have never really discussed my observations with others in the field. Nor have I seen anything in our industry literature about it. So I'd be interested in hearing from others if they have had similar observations or if they have a completely opposite outlook on this. I also wonder if people who are in non-physically demanding jobs who played high school football also suffer in the same manner as they age. 


Using Social Media to Promote Safety Around Trains

Melbourne Metro, a transit service based in Australia, has been successfully using social media to educate the public about safety around trains. Last year they produced this video called Dumb Ways to Die starring a cast of cute little characters and a catchy tune.

And now Melbourne Metro has released a game related to the video's theme. You can download the game for free at iTunes here: Dumb Ways to Die App. These efforts provide a good example of how an agency or company can make use of social media to promote a serious message in a fun way that leads people to actually pay attention. Based on their success, I could easily see how this particular campaign could now be extended to offline formats such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc which helps to further promote their message to an even wider population.

You can check out more about their campaign on the Dumb Ways to Die website



In 2011 in Australia there were 33 rail fatalities reported and 66 injuries (one region not reporting). According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2011 there were 673 people (non-employees/contractors) killed in train-related casualities in the United States. That same year 3,567 people (non-employees/contractors) were injured. 


April’s Recommended Reading List for Civil Engineers

Lately quite a few good resources have shown up in my email. So I've compiled a reading list for this month to showcase these new releases. The first publication I'd like to recommend is:

Minimizing Traffic-Related Work Zone Crashes in Illinois by The Illinois Center for Transportation at the University of Illinois 

If you are involved in work zone safety, particularly in Illinois, you'll definitely want to check this out. Although much of the report focuses on Illinois, in one section it also lists some of the statistics about work zone crashes in several different states. Below is a page from the document summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of the different work zone strategies. 

FHWA-ICT-12-017 26 page 9

The next item might not make it to most people's reading lists: Composting Animal Mortality Removed From Roads: A Pilot Study of Rotary Drum and Forced Aeration Compost Vessels by the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research

I'm including this report mainly because it highlights a topic that seems to be rarely discussed: disposal of animals picked up by highway departments. According to the report, "the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) removes an estimated 55,000 deer carcasses from its roadways each year at a cost of more than $4 million per year." That's a lot of money to spend on getting rid of dead animals. It's good to see that Virginia is investigating more efficient ways to handle this and sharing the information with others because every highway maintenance department deals with this issue.

And finally a newly released publication from the City of Chicago Department of Transportation: Complete Streets Chicago Design Guidelines.

This is a nicely laid out publication offering a look at how the Chicago DOT will incorporate a complete streets approach to transportation.

City of Chicago DOT Complete Street Design Guidelines


If you have any favorite publications of your own, we'd love to hear about them!


Winter Safety Game in Second Life

The other day my friend, LuAnn Strine Phillips, posted a link on Facebook to a project she's been working on: a winter safety game created in Second Life. (LuAnn said, "This virtual learning environment is sponsored by the Cooperative Extension through its eXtension Initiative.") Since cold weather safety is important to public works professionals, I visited her site to check it out. I landed in what looked to be a pine forest nestled under a thick blanket of snow. (For those of you in Second Life, you can check it out here:

Winter Survival Game by Extension


There was an abandoned car and information about winter scattered among the trees. I walked over to a tube with a sign directing me to slide down the tube to enter the game:

Winter Survival Game by Extension

I slid down the tube by clicking it and found myself in a room welcomed by the abominable snowman!

Winter Survival Game by Extension

Because it was not my first time in Second Life, I moved onto the next set of instructions. (But if I had been new, I could have gone through a new user orientation.) Next up was an explanation of the game objective – pick up a few relatives and drive them to a party! And after that was a map of the game site and further instructions:


Winter Survival Game by Extension

The game uses a heads up display or HUD to track points that can be earned by touching or collecting objects and answering questions related to safety. So after equipping my HUD, I was ready to begin the game and learn some important winter safety tips. My first stop was at my home in the game where I had to prepare for my trip. There is a lot of safety information to learn through interacting with the objects in this house. There's also a barn in the back with more information related to winter weather safety for animals and livestock.

Winter Survival Game by Extension

After completing all the preparation at my "home" I was able to drive off in the car. My first stop was to get gas and have my car checked at the service station down the road:

Winter Survival Game by Extension

After that, I needed to make several stops along the way. A few of these were to pick up more items and some were to pick up my relatives. Here's me at one of the stops where I took a few moments to fish and share a few words with one of the local residents. I had been a little worried walking across the ice to his shack, but fortunately the ice was thick, and I didn't fall in. And I did get a fishing pole out of the deal:

Winter Survival Game by Extension


Later on driving through the hills, I was so worried about the icy roads, I forgot to stop and pick up my Uncle. Fortunately I came back to get him because he was having some serious problems of his own and really needed my help. I won't put up more photos except for the one of the final destination because I want to encourage everyone to check out the game for themselves. LuAnn did a great job with this project. It looks beautiful, is informative, addresses an important topic, and is more fun than just reading about winter safety on a website. (If you've never visited Second Life, you can join for free here: – and if you would prefer joining with a guide, just email me at and I can arrange to meet you there your first time and give you some tips on getting started in a virtual world!)

Winter Survival Game by Extension




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 24

Day 24


Safety Meeting

Today was the first Thursday of the month and that means safety meeting day! The whole public works staff attends the monthly safety meeting, and the topic today was backhoe safety. If I get a chance I'll put up a post on it later this week because it was interesting and probably would make a good article.

Cemetery Maintenance

After learning about how to safely operate and transport backhoes, we met with someone who provides cemetery services. Right now we have one person who is responsible for all the maintenance in the two cemeteries we own. We do have some summer help, but there's still a lot of work to be done. And when our help goes back to school, we are back down to one person. Several members of the public have indicated they want increased maintenance services so we are looking at ideas for meeting their requests. One idea is to bid out the maintenance and see if it is cheaper to hire it out than use staff members. During the meeting today we learned about what services companies provide and what other cemeteries they take care of. At this point we are just researching. Our city council will have to make the final decision on whether or not we bid this out or continue to use staff.

Overweight vehicles

Something strange did happen during the morning. Someone called me to complain about getting a ticket from our police for having an overweight vehicle. He also wanted to ask me several questions about this. It was a little difficult answering all of them because our office only handles issuing permits for overweight vehicles. The police enforce the overweight vehicle limits on our streets. I did read him the ordinance explaining we do not allow any trucks over 6 tons on roads unless indicated otherwise and told him the ordinance was available online. So he paraphrased what I said to mean that he, as a landscaper, was not allowed to provide services to residents in our community. I tried to explain this was not what I said and that he could solve the problem by distributing his load between two vehicles to get it below 6 tons and that I've seen other companies doing this. But he did not seem to think this would be an option. I also tried to suggest taking his setup to a truck scale and working with the loading to get it below 6 tons. But he didn't know where a scale was and having only been here for two years, I wasn't sure where the closest one was either. 

He also asked many more questions that were more related to how the police ticket and how they determine when a load is overweight, but I could not answer him since we do not deal with that in my office. He was also frustrated because he must have called other cities and they gave him information that was different from what we were giving him. I tried to explain every city has different ordinances so that's probably why he was getting different answers from different cities. I offered to find out how we could issue him an overweight permit so he could legally drive his load on the streets, but he didn't want me to ask about the process. He kept suggesting we are only issuing tickets to drive up revenue, and he said it was a stupid law. Then he got angry and hung up on me.

Emergency Utility Work

Then right before lunch I received a call from a utility company asking for verbal approval to perform an emergency repair in our downtown. These make me nervous because it's difficult to quickly assess the situation and think of everything that needs to be determined in order to proceed with something like this. But the person said the work would only be in the parkway and was desperately needed because the whole area of the city south of the downtown had no service. So after he promised to be safe and use proper traffic control and restore the area within a couple days, I told him it was ok to proceed. After I got in from lunch, one of the engineers asked me who gave approval for a utility to bore under the railroad. What? I explained what I had given approval for. Then one of the other staff members and I decided to go visit the work site. Meanwhile the person who had asked for the approval called back and said he had no idea it was going to go under the railroad. So he agreed to meet us there. In the end, it all worked out. They ended up calling the railroad, and two guys from the railroad showed up to flag and assist. Our locator marked out what he needed to locate. And they started digging. Because I had to deal with all this, I ended up missing a meeting with a landscaper for our parking lot, but the project engineer was able to go instead.

Rating the Roads

Then we all finished up the day checking out the road conditions in the next area of town to be inspected.