September 1, 2014

Best practices for parking lots

A snow and ice management environment with unique risks and variables


To provide effective snow and ice control in parking lots, contractors need to work in a partnership with the facility owner or manager. Today, the sales pitch of professionals has an educational component, as you should work proactively with the facility before the snow season approaches.  

In order to help you reduce your risk and liability and improve your planning process for next year’s operation, the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA) has created Best Practices Guidelines. These guidelines are relevant to follow, whether you perform the service yourself, or outsource it through subcontractors.

Beyond the necessary insurance to protect you against liability risk, in-house operations and vendors both benefit from a detailed snow site engineering plan and site inspection process. These plans help you to manage safety, risk and environmental health.

Snow site engineering plans
These plans assist you in identifying priority areas. In other words, it defines which areas of the parking lot should be cleared first, second, third, etc. This is particularly helpful when responding to heavier storms or blizzard conditions. Be sure to include fire hydrants, emergency exits, emergency egresses and access to utilities.  Your snow site engineering plan also needs to identify where the snow is to be piled relevant to the line-of-sight issues, handicap areas and drainage locations.  

When seeking a storage area for snow on site, you want to avoid locating snow piles where they will create drifting or visibility issues. Instead, find designated areas where piles of snow won’t create melting and re-freeze issues. Identify areas for snow to be stored if hauling off-site is necessary. Be careful to avoid sensitive waterways or water systems where increased salinity levels from salt might become an environmental concern. Avoid blocking catch basins and manhole covers. Be certain to pay particular attention to parking deck drains where flooding can create extreme ice and load conditions.  

Site inspection process
This process helps determine whether client expectations have been met and risk liability has been managed. To obtain an unbiased inspection, SIMA recommends the person inspecting the snow removal site not be the same person performing the operations process.

Your inspection process should answer these key questions related to your plan:
  • Are first-priority areas clear of snow and ice by the expected time?  If not, why?
  • Were emergency exits and fire hydrant areas cleared within four to six hours following the storm?
  • Are all drains and manhole covers clear of snow and ice so they won’t create flooding?
  • Was there any damage that needs to be fixed? Damages may include light poles, signage, damaged walkways, or curbs, safety bollards, etc.   

Planning, costs and expectations
Planning necessary resources in a snow operation can be very tricky, due to the variability of conditions and expectations. First, you need to understand cycle time rate and the estimated capacity and costs necessary to minimize safety risks, while also meeting your client’s expectations.

Cycle time rate is simply the amount of time it takes you to meet your client's expectations. A typical expectation is to have primary lots and walks clear by 7:00 a.m. If a snow storm or squall begins at 3:00 a.m., and produces 10 cm of snow over two hours, you must have the proper equipment and manpower capacity to cycle through all parking areas and walkways within 1.5 hours, and 15 minutes of de-icing operations, to meet a 7:00 a.m. all-clear expectation. This example illustrates the cost and response risks you share with clients, and other vendors and subcontractors.    

When developing estimates, we use systems and tools to calculate the required resources and costs for a particular site. Part of this evaluation is based on surface area and time calculations. For example, a snow contractor calculates an eight-/nine-ft. plow can clear five cm of snow at an average rate of one hour per acre, 7.5 cm at 1.5 hours per acre, and 10 cm at two hours per acre. Depending on specific expectations of the site related to tolerance levels for accumulation and time of day, a 10 cm event may need to be cleared one, two or three times. Therefore, expectations have a direct impact on the estimated cost of resource capacity demand and responsiveness.

Capacity planning
You can verify the capacity of planned equipment and manpower based on estimated resources using an average five cm cycle time requirement. For example, if you have an eight-acre lot using the same storm scenario of 3:00 a.m. start time, with five cm of snow per hour for two hours, it requires three trucks with eight-/nine-ft. plows to complete ‘all clear’ conditions by 7:00 a.m.

Enormous budget variations are often the case for snow removal. From a cost standpoint, you benefit when you budget and equip for above-average conditions, even when there is only a small chance of a heavy storm or years with little to no snow. Over the course of five-10 years, the cost of being improperly equipped far exceeds the cost for being always prepared, with the proper capacity of equipment and human resources. While average-sized storms might only require half the resources, clients expect you to be ready for the worst weather. This requires proper response planning; you must allocate appropriate funds to meet the worst-case preparedness scenario.    

Storm response planning 
Your planning needs to include contingencies for a variety of weather events and natural disasters, and your plan needs your clients' approval as well. In addition, your response plan needs to include snow storms or blizzards as well as other cause-and-effect conditions that may occur because of the initial snow. These events may include:
  • Road closures. Consider what may occur if heavy snow closes roads, and designated resources and snow removal vehicles are not able to get through.
  • Power outages. Think about your plan in the event power outages cut off communications, or if vehicles are unable to refuel.
  • Icy conditions or freezing rain. Consider changes to de-icing materials depending on the weather conditions.
  • Holidays. Think through what you might need to do if you experience a heavy snow or blizzard during a holiday, when only skeleton crews are scheduled to work.
  • Emergency incidents. Determine a plan of action when it is snowing during a fire or medical emergency that requires immediate and uninterrupted access.  

Communication, documentation and verification
Simple yet thorough and consistent planning for communication, documentation and verification are important for managing client expectations, and critical for liability and risk management. New technologies including GPS, smart phones with cameras and other off-the-shelf systems provide improved, quicker and easier ways to communicate, document and verify service. However, the old-fashioned, but reliable, carbon copy service reports still remain a good resource.

The simplest form of communication is a phone tree. SIMA suggests establishing a minimum of three forms of a communication for three people that represent the site, and three people that are responsible for the work performed. In total, there should be six people listed with their cell, office, and home phone numbers.    

Snow removal professionals must document and verify their snow removal process with a service report for each storm. These reports should include start- and end-time of the storm, site conditions, weather conditions, amounts of accumulation and  snow removal services performed. Property managers and your operator or subcontractor must sign off on each service report, to verify timing and the actual services performed.
Phill Sexton is Director of Education and Outreach for the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA), the association for snow and ice management professionals in Canada and the United States. To obtain a copy of SIMA’s complete Best Practices Guidelines and other documents or tools, log on to