Snow, Salt and Storms: Winter Challenges and Lessons Learned
Landlords, facilities managers and contractors will long remember the winter of 2013-2014. This winter has caused challenges that have never been experienced before. Cold weather, including long stretches with subzero temperatures in the midwest and central part of the United States, numerous major snow events in the north, and significant snow fall in the south, particularly in Georgia, have caused headaches and dangerous conditions.
Government leaders across the nation are addressing the budget concerns of the impact of snow removal and purchases of rock salt, which has reached historic highs. Overtime, costs for the manpower needed for plowing and removing snow, as well as treating roads and bridges are going to be record breaking for many states and municipalities.
For the private sector the impact is no less severe. With the obligation to provide safe access to properties and to keep malls, shopping centers, office buildings, hospitals and colleges open for tenants and their customers, landlords, facilities managers and facilities maintenance contractors are under enormous pressure. On top of this pressure is the contractual obligation to provide access to tenants since failure to do so can incur unwanted financial penalties.
With each new storm the pressure and challenges mount. In typical years landlords and those who work for them have had adequate supplies of ice melt, sand and proper manpower in place to manage winter weather. This year however, the situation has changed. Winter weather events that began in the late fall across the central part of the nation and continuing severe cold had a significant impact on rock salt supplies. As of January, rock salt supplies across the nation began to dwindle and demand increased rapidly. This caused rock salt costs to rise from $65 to $95 a ton to as much as $250 in some cases.
Price is one challenge but even getting salt for many has become close to if not impossible. Rock salt, which is the standard and most cost effective way for melting ice, is needed in significant quantities, especially in low temperature situations. Salt and sand, are essential for preventing vehicle accidents and injuries in parking lots as well as on walkways. Failure to make parking lots safe could lead to unwanted legal actions, including slip and fall law suits.
To put rising costs into perspective, a parking lot for 200 cars may need two, three or more applications of rock salt to prepare for and manage a typical snow event. In this case, up to 12 tons of rock salt could be needed. At the $200 a ton price point, which is common across the nation, the cost of rock salt alone could be well over two thousand dollars for just one event. Multiply this many times over during the winter season and the costs rack up quickly.
Challenges in terms of snow removal have also increased. With multiple snow events, labor costs, including overtime, have become a factor. Safety is also a concern; with so many back-to-back events, fatigue is hitting many operators hard. Workers have to be given adequate time to recover before they can get back working, especially if they are operating heavy equipment. With subzero temperatures, onsite workers need longer breaks to prevent risks to health. These conditions make the process of snow removal longer and more expensive.
Fuel costs are also a factor when examining snow removal. Plows, trucks, snow blowers and heavy equipment all quickly burn through fuel. Significant snow events require more equipment and for that equipment to be used for longer periods of time.
Safety is always the primary concern for tenants, customers and workers. For this reason it is difficult if not impossible to cut costs. The best way to address this challenge and others like it is to do whatever is possible to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
What can facilities managers and contractors take away from the historic 2013-2014 winter season? The first lesson is to remember that each year brings with it different weather. Don’t hope that just because the previous year was mild the same will be true for the next. Mild weather in 2012-2013 left many ill prepared for the winter of 2013-2014.
An additional planning lesson for facilities managers and those responsible for snow removal is make sure that adequate supplies of ice melt, sand and other resources are stock piled and additional sources secured. Alternatives and back up sources of rock salt, equipment and manpower should be lined up. Having contingency plans in place is always a wise approach; managing an issue in a crisis situation will be more costly and more difficult to address.
Improving communications is the final lesson to be learned. Landlords and facilities managers must completely examine their plans and how they communicate. Tenants must have access to properties and landlords must communicate with tenants about weather and potential issues. Facilities managers and contractors should establish communications protocols and procedures that will keep landlords informed of plans and responses to weather events. Landlords can then communicate with tenants quickly and in advance. Proactive communications will allow tenants to understand how snow and other weather events will be addressed.
All procedures and systems should be tested in advance and landlords should confirm that tenants know what is to be expected and how they can access information. Well informed tenants will appreciate the effort and have the information they need for communicating with their employees, customers and others. An effective communications policy cuts down on confusion while increasing tenant satisfaction and retention.
Record breaking cold and multiple snow events that have impacted much of the United States will be how the winter of 2013-2014 will be remembered. Those in facilities management must use the challenges faced to improve operational planning, prepare more effectively and establish better communications procedures. For landlords and property owners, these efforts will reduce problems, enhance tenant experiences and reduce costs.
This article has been provided by David Morillo, Senior Vice President, Executive Commercial Maintenance based in New York, New York. The company is a national provider of facility maintenance services and specializes in snow removal for clients across the United States. For more information, visit http://www.executivecommercialmaintenance.com.