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More than 2,000 Wisconsin motorists were stranded on I-39/90 when a severe snowstorm struck the southern portion of the state Feb. 5 – 7, 2008. Although interagency coordination was excellent at the beginning of the storm, it became nonexistent as darkness fell on the stranded motorists, according to a report by the state's adjutant general. Photo: Joseph W. Jackson III/Copyright Wisconsin State Journal. Reprinted with permission.
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The second eye-opener was when, in an effort to address the issues identified in the review, we took ICS-300 training.

Unlike the 200-level course, we were in a classroom along with police and fire employees; which helped all three departments realize the need to work together as first responders. The classroom exercises helped us connect our real-world operations with the introductory training that we'd initially thought wasn't applicable. We recognized the need to adjust our operations to better align with incident-command protocol used by other emergency first responders.

We assumed that all surrounding jurisdictions and other first responders, such as police and fire, knew what each other was doing and when; and this simply wasn't the case. We needed to develop a shared emergency management and communications system.

So for the 2008/09 winter season, we revised snow and ice control procedures by establishing and clearly describing the incident command structure (i.e., staff members charged with field operations, planning, logistics, public information, safety, and liaison with other responding agencies) and clearly identifying who the incident commander is at all times during an event. Whereas before we were focused on just operations — clearing roads — this structure ensures we place just as much importance on planning and communicating with other first responders.

As part of our revised procedures, we e-mail briefings to all city departments, the press, and other entities in anticipation of, and during, events. The briefings include the weather forecast, our operational objectives, emergency response category from Type 5 (least complex) through Type 1 (most complex), which has proved invaluable in describing the severity of the storm and size of the response required. We also strive to clearly outline the chain of command for the next operational period (typically eight hours).

This communication is a critical component of our first-responder responsibilities to inform the public, and as liaison to other agencies.

By adopting incident-command procedures for snow and ice control operations, we've proven the value of a formalized incident-command structure to employees, elected officials, and the public. Police and fire have praised our protocols, and other city departments now look to us as weather experts. In fact, following our lead, the city's water department recently applied the concepts to its response to main breaks.

Because what we used to think of as routine work is now considered an emergency response, we'll respond much more effectively if and when that “tipping point” of a large-scale emergency occurs in our community. So consider ICS 300-level training for your team. Then take a hard, reflective look at your own response systems. The benefits will be greater than they may first appear.

— Brian Amundson, PE, is the director of public works for the city of Eau Claire, Wis.

Web Extra

The components of NIMS are flexible; they are best practice measures ad adaptable to any situation, from routine local incidents to incidents re requiring the activation of multiple agencies, interstate mutual aid, or coordinated federal response. To learn more about NIMS, and how Eau Claire (Wis.) Public Works applies NIMS best practices into snow and ice control operations, visit the “article links” page under “resources” at www.pwmag.com.