The Perfect Storm: An Overview

snow-at-city-hallThe ice storm that we experienced in Grand Junction on January 9, 2017 was very different from what we typically see here. From what we have been told, this was the first ice storm warning in Grand Junction history. The following are some bullet points to provide some insight into the operations required for this type of severe weather, and also to shed some light on how infrastructure decisions were made during the storm.

  • Based on weather forecasts, the first City of Grand Junction streets crews showed up to begin work at 3 a.m. and all remaining available pieces of equipment were on the streets by 7 a.m. The City snow removal fleet consists of eleven pieces of equipment with spreaders and plows, broken into eight routes. There is a misconception that City crews plow residential streets. This has never been the case – we simply do not have the resources available to do this. The focus is on the main routes.
  • At just after 7 a.m. on Monday, an accident alert was issued by the Grand Junction Police Department. An accident alert is issued when travel conditions become significantly hazardous, typically due to weather, thereby increasing the call volume into the 9-1-1 Communication Center. When an accident alert is in effect, community members are asked to wait to report minor, non-injury accidents until the accident alert is lifted, usually within 24 hours. This allows public safety personnel to prioritize call responses, and frees up resources for emergency incidents. Community members can also utilize the Colorado State Patrol’s online accident reporting system to file an accident report when an accident alert is in effect.
  • It was apparent by 6:00 a.m. that additional public safety personnel would be required in order to field the large volume of calls created as a result of the weather conditions. Six telecommunicators were asked to either stay late, or come in early or on their day off to provide more call takers in the Communication Center. The Police Department grave shift patrol team, who end their shift at 7:00 a.m., was asked to stay late, and the team who begins their shift at noon was asked to come in early. This was in addition to the normal staffing from the day shift patrol team, who came on duty at 7:00 a.m. Fire Department personnel whose shifts were ending Monday morning were asked to remain on duty for an additional six hours to assist the crews coming on duty with call response.
  • We discovered very quickly that road additives were being diluted by the rain and were becoming ineffective. In addition, when temperatures drop below 25 degrees, salt loses its effectiveness. Further, instant icing on the roadways was creating an insurmountable situation that required us to focus our efforts on getting deicing product to the areas of greatest need.
  • Within a very short time it was determined that this storm was taxing the resources of every emergency response and road maintenance organization, and that travel conditions were not safe.
  • As a result, an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated at the Grand Junction Police Department to coordinate the deployment of resources and to gather information on accidents, call volumes, areas most affected, and impending closures. It was also a place where we could collaborate across City departments as well as collaborate with County, State and School District operations to make decisions.
  • One of the functions of the EOC is to create a central location from which to share consistent messages to the community. Communications personnel from City Administration, the Police Department, and the Fire Department worked together to share information regarding road closures, safety messages, and impact of the storm on various community resources, such as school, local government, and public transit closures. A variety of venues are used in order to reach the largest audience, including social media, news blogs, the City website, and local radio and news stations.
  • The first priority for public safety resources became to respond to accidents/incidents in which there were injured parties. It was not far into the accident alert that the Police Department requested that only emergency calls be made to the 9-1-1 dispatch center. For any incident that did not involve an immediate threat to personal safety or property, community members were asked to wait 24 hours to make their report, or to utilize online reporting resources, in an effort to free up public safety personnel for more critical calls.
  • It is not a frequent occurrence that community members are asked to wait to report incidents to 9-1-1, but this situation presented some unusual circumstances. The 9-1-1 dispatch operation fielded 929 calls between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m., including seventy-four wrecks requiring immediate public safety response. There were also 22 calls to the 911 center between the hours of 6 a.m. and noon reporting falls on the ice, which required response from emergency personnel.
  • The first priority for road crews was (and always is when it snows) to address the most heavily traveled routes first (see snow-removal-priority-map). Efforts were focused on major intersections where the most accidents were taking place or the most reports to 911 were coming in.
  • Through the course of this weather event, the entire City streets division began working alternating twelve-hour shifts to continue to address slick roadways and trouble spots. Ultimately, personnel from the City, County, and State continued to monitor road and weather conditions into the evening, and the accident alert was cancelled at approximately 9 p.m. last night. Road crews worked through the night, in an effort to create safer travel conditions this morning.  The events of January 9 were unprecedented in our area.  We appreciate the patience and input of those in our community who were affected by the storm, and we continue to strive to provide exceptional service to our community, whether that be through public safety response or street maintenance.  We welcome the feedback of our community and feel fortunate that our community was able to weather the storm.  As more snow is being predicted for the Grand Valley in the coming days, road crews will be monitoring conditions and responding accordingly.

Contact: Sam Rainguet, Communications Manager  970-244-1507

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