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72nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion 18th Engineer Brigade 7th Theatre Tactical Signal Brigade 630th MP Company

Understanding how Schweinfurt responds to cold weather

Nov. 23, 2011


Photo by Nathan Van Schaik, USAG Schweinfurt Public Affairs

One of USAG Schweinfurt’s seven snow removal vehicles beneath the garrison’s lone salt silo at the tac site on Conn Barracks. When inclement weather brought on by the fall and winter months hits, it sets into motion a series of events.

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Staying informed of weather and road conditions is easy. But understanding what occurs between the fall of the first snowflake and the decisions that follow is more complex. Inclement weather that arrives during the fall and winter months sets into motion a series of events here that the public is largely unaware of, sparking curiosity, pushing debate and even fueling public outrage.

The garrison officials who collect and analyze weather conditions are, of course, at the mercy of Mother Nature who, at a moment’s notice, can dump inches of snow over Schweinfurt or can plaster streets with sheets of ice—as many will recall from that dreadful and now notorious early morning storm that paralyzed the city in January 2011. Those same officials are also faced with lesser known challenges like impending deadlines and limited resources. Department of Defense schools, for example, must know no later than 5 a.m. whether schools will be delayed or canceled given that buses must leave at that time to make their scheduled routes. And those military police patrolling the streets — whose observations are eventually forwarded to the garrison commander — only have the time to safely drive a specific route, not the hundreds of miles of pavement meandering through Schweinfurt’s nearly 50 villages where thousands of people live and commute.        

Here’s how a typical scenario might unfold.

5 p.m. | Snow in the Forecast

Well before snow accumulates or black ice forms along bridges and sidewalks, garrison officials are busily making preparations for worst-case scenarios. Threatening weather does not set off a single chain of events, as one domino topples the next, but rather sets off a cluster of individual reactions. So at 5 p.m., when weather reports indicating inclement weather come streaming in, different organizations are formulating their own responses simultaneously. It is through their combined efforts, however, that the community is kept informed, prepared and, most importantly, safe. There are several key players who by this time have already begun preparations for inclement weather. There’s the directorate of emergency services headed by the provost marshal who coordinates with local authorities and dispatches military police along routes to conduct road assessments. There’s the garrison’s nerve center in the installation operation center, manned every hour of the day, whose watch officers receive and respond to the information that is eventually fed to the garrison commander — the person ultimately accountable for the entire military community and who is granted lone decision-making authority to make the final call on the designation of road conditions, school closures and work delays. The garrison commander can also authorize the use of a liberal leave policy. And there’s also the directorate of public works that provides street cleaning crews and salt trucks.

11 p.m. | Snowfall Is Imminent

Temperatures begin plummeting, ripening the conditions for snowfall, frozen bridges and slick streets. In addition to evaluating roads on post at four different installations, garrison MPs manning a total of four patrol cars begin their first round of road assessments driving along a circular route westbound on the 303, north up the B 19 toward Poppenhausen and back southeast along the 286. There are, according to city and county officials, nearly 500 miles of paved roadways in the Schweinfurt area—about the driving distance from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina—negating any possibility to assess all the roads. If you live off post and have ever wondered why road conditions weren’t degraded when the snow was a foot deep on your street, this is why: There are simply too many roads for the garrison’s four patrol cars to assess.  

The MPs’entire route is accomplished in about an hour. MPs report road conditions back to headquarters which are then relayed to the IOC for further dissemination. Back at the MP station, a desk sergeant is receiving feeds from the local German Polizei who are making similar assessments.

 

What you need to know…

Safety is your responsibility. If you don’t feel comfortable driving to work or sending your kids to school, don’t do it.

The garrison provides guidance to tenant units on road conditions. It’s up to the respective unit command teams, however, to cancel PT or delay further actions. Soldiers unsure what to do should contact their staff duty officer who can give them further details.

Contrary to popular belief, road conditions do not dictate whether you as a Soldier, civilian or student should come to work or school. Road conditions are set at green, amber, red or black and these levels only pertain to conditions for military tactical and non-tactical vehicles.

During bad weather, the garrison commander can authorize a liberal leave policy which allows garrison employees to immediately take leave. In the event of a closure or delay, employees do not have to take leave.

There are more than 500 miles of paved road ways in the Schweinfurt area. State, county, city and residential road crews remove snow for their designated streets. DPW snow and ice removal crews only manage the garrison’s roads.

School and work closures, along with changes in road and weather conditions, are provided at www.TeamSchweinfurt.com and AFN Bavaria radio on 87.7 FM. You can also hear updates at DSN: 354-6690/6213, CIV: 09721-96-6690/6213.

As a general rule of thumb in Germany, the homeowner or tenant is responsible for clearing snow from walkways in front of the property.

The garrison’s Self-Help Issue Point provides free of charge snow shovels and limited supplies of salt to all ID cardholders.

In accordance with German federal law, all automobiles must be fitted with winter tires.

3 a.m. | Snow Hits Schweinfurt

At first, flurries float through the sky only to increase in intensity and eventually giving way to an all out snow storm. The snow quickly begins sticking and the MP’s hour-long route slows to a two-hour crawl through the powdery snow that has accumulated on the streets.

The IOC receives its first report of accumulation from the patrolman. The details of the report — along with the current road conditions, weather forecast and visibility — are then fed through a matrix to determine whether road conditions should be changed. The IOC watch officer determines that the road conditions warrant a change from green to amber. This, however, requires approval through the garrison commander. The garrison commander receives the first of several phone calls that will wake him through the night.

Changes in road conditions are immediately relayed to radio and television personnel with the Armed Forces Network. The garrison’s website, www.TeamSchweinfurt.com, and its corresponding Facebook page are updated—all in an effort to inform the public.

Meanwhile, snow plows and salt trucks belonging to the state, county, city and surrounding villages wake from hibernation to carve through snow at breakneck speed. Germany’s snow removal trucks are as territorial as they are efficient. The Schweinfurt county, or landkreis, employs crews to remove snow from district streets while the state construction office removes snow and ice from federal and state roads. City trucks take on city roads. And what about small community roads? That’s the responsibility of the village in the vicinity which is why some people living off post are luckier than others.

Inside the gates of the Schweinfurt garrison, DPW crews take sole responsibility. Two shifts of five-member teams take turns plowing snow and laying down salt, though between the hours of 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. labor regulations — with the exception of emergency cases — restrict them from working. The garrison owns a total of seven vehicles including tractors and trucks.

Roads inside the garrison are prioritized and it takes crews between two to three hours just to complete priority one roads which include those along Askren Manor and Yorktown Village housing and, most of Ledward and well-trafficked ways through Conn Barracks.


4 a.m. | Road Conditions Worsen

In a struggle pitting Man against Nature, road crews are unable to prevent the accumulation of snow for safe passage along Schweinfurt’s main arteries. DPW crews are working feverishly to clear the first round of the priority one roads. By this time, garrison MPs patrolling the streets have already increased the frequency of their routes (they’re required to make hourly reports once a change in road conditions has been made).

Road conditions worsen. Visibility is poor. The forecast looks grim. All of this the IOC watch officer feeds to the garrison commander over the phone. It’s crunch time now. He’ll have to make a critical decision that will affect the lives of thousands in the community. Should school be canceled? Should road conditions be moved from amber to red, or maybe even, gulp, black? What about work delays? The public has to know.


4:30 a.m. | A Decision Is Made

The garrison commander decides that in the interests of safety, there will be no school today. Road conditions are set at red and a two-hour work delay has gone into effect for all government employees.


Story by Nathan Van Schaik, USAG Schweinfurt Public Affairs


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