Preparing for Extreme Winter Weather: How to Winterize Your Operation

As I write this in early October, I realize much of the nation is on the verge of experiencing extreme weather in one form or another. Seems like this year, 2011, has been extreme compared to many. While tornados and flooding are weather events that are usually unexpected and therefore unplanned for, winter weather is usually predictable in its methods. No one can really prepare for a blizzard, but rain, snow and ice are predictable common winter events.

Most experts recommend facility operators perform a thorough check of the building and roofing systems. A good resource for a complete roof checklist is Service Notes from National Roof. They are in the roofing business, but their list is very thorough.

Heavy snow loads do need to be removed from roofs to prevent collapse. Care must be taken to ensure safe roof operations. A professional company is always the right way to go. Never send up the rink guards or life guards for this important job due to the very real possibility of serious injury.

In the ice rink business especially, a roof or two goes down every year. I've not heard of any incident causing loss of life, but the possibilities are there. When the Hartford Civic Center Roof collapsed, due to snow load, the rebuilding process took years. Just hours before the collapse, the building hosted a college basketball game. The “what if” part of my brain wonders what if the building collapsed in the middle of the game?

Lately, the Prince William Ice Center in Virginia collapsed. After a complete rebuild, the center reopened in September. I talked to the owners during a recent rink conference, and the amount of work to rebuild was stunning. Dealing with the insurance company, finding quality contractors, and finding a place to store the merchandise for the pro shop, are all factors that made the whole process very intricate.

Beyond the roof, operators should check equipment, policies, and procedures. Every building is different, but here are a few common sense ideas to help winterize your operation:

  • Maintain Roof Top HVAC units in case snow is too heavy to do so later in the season.
  • Maintain cooling towers, take steps recommended by water treatment company to prevent ice ups.
  • Lubricate ventilation fans where needed (many are sealed) and make sure the louvers operate freely.
  • Create policies and communicate them to the employees to ensure proper equipment shut down in the event of power failure or brown out. Brown outs, which frequently happen during inclement weather, can kill motors which cost thousands.
  • Place checklists for procedures in any area employees use frequently.
  • Set up flashlights in strategic locations, ensure the batteries are fresh. Flashlights tend to mysteriously disappear, so check regularly. A radio is a good idea too.
  • Establish procedures to notify the public in the event of closure. Social media (Facebook and Twitter) can help, as well as more conventional media like TV stations.
  • Check emergency building systems like emergency lighting, sprinklers, etc. After a few years batteries in the emergency lighting fail.
  • Establish contracts with a snow removal company.

Once inclement weather arrives you will be glad you planned out how to operate your building. In Oregon, we rarely have snow but the ice storms are usually severe. When I worked in Connecticut, the whole state could be shut down by blizzards, but the hockey teams usually came to the rink anyway. I always theorized that hockey, as a ritual combat, took a greater commitment to the team than most sports. In any event, your building will usually have to be in partial operation unless the storms are very severe. Here are a few ideas for things to do while your building is closed, or operating at reduced capacity:

  • Get that project done that you've been putting off because interruptions get in the way.
  • Follow up with the snow plow company that your lot will be first to be dug out.
  • Shovel paths for building access, salt the sidewalks.
  • Make sure the road sign is lit.
  • Check the flash lights and other emergency preparations.
  • Lower the ice temperature a little if you think a power outage is possible.
  • Call nonessential employees and tell them to stay home.

Lowering the ice temperature helps maintain the ice in the event of a power failure. A little goes a long way when you do this. If you notice your ice getting really chippy, or large divots coming out, your temperature is too low. Once the rink temperature control failed and the compressors stayed on. I thought that finally the hockey teams would think the ice was fast enough because cold ice is usually fast ice. And then the large divots started coming out and the ice was really brittle. The hockey teams complained. That experience makes me realize that an ice rink can be set too cold.

Once the storm is over, and the state is dug out, I find that business, especially public skate, is very good. I believe this is because the news commentators advertise our end product, ice, heavily. Even though they talk about school closures, stuck buses, or snow accumulation, people usually think about skating as a result. I usually call in extra help in the days after the storm, and the extra business makes me glad every time. Generally, if the rink is only closed a few days, the increased business makes up for the closure.

Winter weather definitely makes life more complex. Any severe weather event will cost your facility money. Taking appropriate steps now, will result in minimizing the losses later. Rink Management Services Corporation can help your facility plan for any event.

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