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The Benefits of Assisting TxDOT with Emergency Operations

Shared by: F. Howard Holland, P.E., Vice President, Raba Kistner, Inc.

 As I was watching the icicles drip from my roof at the conclusion of the most brutally cold, snow, and ice spell of my entire life in Texas, this article began to take form. I am not sure if I am writing this from the viewpoint of the former Director of Maintenance for TxDOT, private contractor, or maybe with a balanced view of both. Whichever it is, I intend to be thoughtfully honest. An example of my thoughtless honesty occurred in the midst of the winter storm Cleon in December 2013. I was in the TxDOT EOC doing a live phone interview with the nationally-viewed Weather Channel. At the end of the interview, they gave me the softball question of, “What should people do before they venture out?” My response should have been, “Tune in to the Weather Channel,” but instead I said, “You never know what the weather may be doing, so best to go outside and see for yourself what the weather is.” Stunned silence from the EOC and the Weather Channel reporter!

In all honesty, it is not new for contractors to be asked to assist during these storms, but it is becoming more common as driver expectations increase, Texas population increases, the lane miles grow, and TxDOT resources of personnel and equipment are strained to cover the largest state highway system in the country. This is not exactly a best practice for placement of HMAC, but assisting TxDOT with emergency operations does yield benefits to improve HMAC.

The greatest benefit is working together builds relationships and trust. We do lunches, partnering, and “Partners in Quality Meetings” all with the intent of understanding projects better and building relations. Working together in emergency operations for natural disasters naturally builds relationships fast, whether it is hurricanes, tornados, flooding, or winter storms. TxDOT resources can be overwhelmed, opening the door of need for contractors to quickly respond with employees and equipment.

A second benefit is safety of the public, which could be your own family. Quickly restoring safe roadways is huge for allowing access for first responders to those with medical emergencies, power companies to restore services, fuel delivery, food trucks, and bottled water. There is no other way to say it except it is the right thing to do as a member of the community, and the community will appreciate your company for it.

So what are the best practices you as a company can take to prepare to assist? A shortage of gas and diesel fuel is seen in all wide-spread natural disasters. This message is common now for hurricane preparation that there is much more storage in vehicle tanks than at gas stations. Prior to a forecast emergency, it should be everyone's practice to fuel up everything that holds fuel. Some TxDOT maintenance yards have bulk fuel, but even if they do, they rarely have means to take it out to equipment engaged in working. Contractors have fuel/service trucks and have them serviced and ready to roll with operators around the clock. A best practice is to have the operators identified early to be rested, housed nearby, and with an all-wheel drive vehicle.

The key to all emergency operations is communication — just as it is key when laying quality HMAC. Communication is the first thing that normally breaks down in emergencies when there are too many people communicating and no identified person in charge. Identify the person for your company who will coordinate activities with TxDOT, and TxDOT should do the same.

A pre-activity meeting, patterned after a pre-paving meeting, is ideal. Discussion should cover the assistance for TxDOT and also the project. Do not overlook the project needs of traffic control, incident responses, and emergency pavement repairs. Natural disasters place added burden on all these items. Identify who is available, response time, and discuss their need to be physically fit to respond during the storm.

Nobody worries too much about the money in the middle of the storm, but later it is the focus and can destroy the positive relationship built. Keep good records of the equipment used, people involved, and include the details. For equipment, include the make and model. Employees should be identified by name, classification, and pay rates. For both equipment and personnel, keep hours worked by including the beginning and ending time every day in addition to the total hours.

In summary, look at assisting TxDOT as an investment in relationships and your community.

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