National Academies Press: OpenBook

A Debris Management Handbook for State and Local DOTs and Departments of Public Works (2014)

Chapter: Local Case Study - Lessons from Two Years of Severe Storms

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Suggested Citation:"Local Case Study - Lessons from Two Years of Severe Storms." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. A Debris Management Handbook for State and Local DOTs and Departments of Public Works. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22239.
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Suggested Citation:"Local Case Study - Lessons from Two Years of Severe Storms." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. A Debris Management Handbook for State and Local DOTs and Departments of Public Works. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22239.
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Suggested Citation:"Local Case Study - Lessons from Two Years of Severe Storms." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. A Debris Management Handbook for State and Local DOTs and Departments of Public Works. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22239.
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Page 177

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CS-1 L O C A L C A S E S T U DY Lessons from Two Years of Severe Storms David Gofstein is the director of Public Works for the Town of Coventry, Connecticut. With a permanent staff of about 16, he has managed debris removal operations for the town for over 10 years. In the past 2 years, severe storms including Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy have created large amounts of vegetative debris and downed power lines in the largely rural community. Planning David is careful to keep track of his resources—staff, trucks, equipment. His office manager keeps weekly roll-ups of timecards, and he keeps an index card with the locations of all of his crews at all times. This serves two important purposes: First, it allows him to quickly assess and allocate resources based on the situation, and second, it provides a thorough starting point if his department ever needs to apply for reimbursement. The town does not have a formal debris management plan but has engaged in detailed plan- ning efforts that inform every debris management operation. David’s crews have very specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) for tasks such as clearing debris near downed power lines. In addition, the town holds several mutual-aid agreements with neighboring jurisdic- tions. But David notes that an effective debris management operation requires a mix of planning and thinking “on the fly”—every disaster is different, and no plan can account for every scenario. Preparedness David and his team watch weather forecasts carefully. The most important consideration in the days leading up to a storm is a well-rested staff. Safe operations require rested crews, and decision making after a storm requires clear-headedness. Response After a storm occurs, David’s DPW has to make a decision about whether to respond. These decisions are made in consultation with the town manager and depend on a number of factors, including the expected quantity of debris, whether a federal disaster declaration is expected, and the town’s current fiscal situation. David notes that, because Coventry is so rural, the residents are often able to push their own debris into woody areas rather than requiring city services.

CS-2 A Debris Management Handbook for State and Local DOTs and Departments of Public Works Operations If the decision is made to remove debris, David works with the state Department of Trans- portation to assign and prioritize routes for clearance. He notes that, when residents hear that the town is removing debris, they often place non-storm debris in the public right-of-way for removal; for this reason, he estimates that his crews collect 10–15% more debris than the storm-related estimate. David’s crews work closely with utility companies, in particular electric and telecommuni- cations companies. This prevents his crews from touching power lines until they are declared dead, and allows rapid service restoration by removing the most damaging downed trees. Often, David has to balance protecting infrastructure with rapid service restoration—sometimes, it is faster to push downed trees aside than to remove them, even if it means a little bit more dam- age to the electric infrastructure. David notes that he doesn’t want to cause a lot of damage, but he has to be willing to make those kinds of calls, especially if it means that emergency vehicles have better access. After most storms, primary route clearing occurs within the first 48 hours, but depending on the storm, secondary removal can take up to 45 days. David points out that normal operations don’t stop just because there’s debris on the road; the goal is to have the most positive response with the least amount of resources. Public Information David notes the importance of understanding the level of service expected by residents, but he also stresses the importance of setting deadlines within which residents may have their debris cleared. This helps to limit complaints and prevent endless debris management operations. The town often allows residents to place debris in their driveways until a certain day or bring storm- related debris to the town dump within a certain set of operating hours. Site Selection and Segregation The Town of Coventry has landfill space pre-identified, which allows for easy site selection. In the past, the town considered using public spaces such as parks as temporary debris removal sites. However, David’s experience is that even if the site is “temporary,” it often takes a very long time to clear all the debris, and residents don’t like to have their parks overrun with debris. Debris managers must know not just to pile debris anywhere there is an opening. David notes the importance of segregating debris from the very beginning—vegetative debris goes in one area, construction and demolition debris goes in another, and so on. If crews don’t segregate from the very first load, it is impossible to go back through and sort. Reduction, Recycling, and Disposal Most of the debris in Coventry is woody, which means chipping and grinding are often good disposal techniques. Collection and reduction efforts often depend on the situation. For instance, after Hurricane Sandy, it was quicker to chip debris directly into the woods than to hire a contractor or transport it to a DMS. In other instances, however, chipping as they cleared slowed crews down significantly, meaning they could not clear routes as quickly as they needed to.

Lessons from Two Years of Severe Storms CS-3 In addition to chipping on the fly, David and the DPW have been able to recycle woody debris in two innovative ways. Very large trees are cut down to firewood, which is placed on the curbside for residents to collect. Because of the high demand for firewood, residents claimed it quickly at little or no cost to the city. Other woody debris is chipped and laid down over foot paths and other public spaces, saving money for both debris disposal and park maintenance. Reimbursement Reimbursement is available through the state when the federal government declares a disaster, and David has applied for reimbursement for several operations. He notes that records don’t have to be especially detailed as long as they are consistent and can be validated. He ensures that he and anyone reviewing his application can match up every driver with a truck and every truck with its equipment. Dispatch records and time cards help to ensure that this is possible. He does note that it can take time for reimbursement funds to travel from the federal government through the state to the town. Conclusion David Gofstein and the Town of Coventry have successfully combined careful planning, resource tracking, and on-the-fly thinking to manage several severe storms over the course of two years. As David says, “The challenge is to be able to accomplish everything without everything you need. If you’re able to accomplish everything, you probably have more than what you need.”

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 781: A Debris Management Handbook for State and Local DOTs and Departments of Public Works provides debris management practices for local, tribal, and state departments of transportation and for public works agencies. A PowerPoint presentation and a final report describing the methodology of the project are available online.

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