Preparation, planning pays off

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Looking back at the ‘Icepocalypse’ of 2013 in The Colony

Alexander Graham Bell is famous for many things but among them is coining the phrase, “Before everything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Faced with a host of challenges during the ice storm that blanketed North Texas the weekend of Dec. 6-9, it was indeed preparation that ensured the city of The Colony truly weathered the storm.

Of primary concern were road conditions. Public Services Director Leo Lavender said crews starting watching the weather on Wednesday, Dec. 4, in order to stay informed of the developing conditions and severity of the oncoming storm. The staff met Thursday, Dec. 5, to conduct a strategy meeting that addressed developing crew rotation, tasks to be performed and sanding locations targeting major thoroughfares and intersections.

Plowing through snow is one thing but these roads were covered in ice, which is much more dangerous and difficult to mitigate.

“Snowy roads are not as slippery as ice and don’t take as much material to keep traffic moving,” Lavender said. “With snow we can usually get by with using just sand or chat rock. Icy roads, however, require sand or chat rock mixed with ice melt, and we have to sand more often.”

Eighteen workers put in 230 hours in shifts Friday through Sunday, utilizing three sanding trucks and one backhoe to distribute 10 pallets of ice melt totaling 25,000 pounds, 40 yards of concrete sand and 40 yards of chat rock.

Aside from maintaining the roads, crews also helped residents with vehicles that were stuck due to the conditions, cleared fallen trees and branches from roadways, set out temporary stop signs due to power outages, and helped to maintain city buildings in need of emergency ice removal.

A field of ice and slush marks the spot where Holiday in the Park would've been held if not for cancellation resulting from the ice storm.

A field of ice and slush marks the spot where Holiday in the Park would’ve been held if not for cancellation resulting from the ice storm.

The Colony Police Department stayed busy as well. Assistant Police Chief Chris Chandler said six accidents were reported during the storm, and a total of 27 vehicles were reported stuck. In preparation for those incidents, PD received training from the city’s Fleet Services Department on installing cables on police vehicles for use on icy roads. The cables remained installed throughout the inclement weather.  The department’s new Ford SUVs, however, are all-wheel drive, so they were utilized also and “performed spectacularly,” Chandler said.

In addition to motor vehicle incidents, the police responded to the roof collapse at Hidden Cove marina and the pole damage at TopGolf, as well as numerous calls related to trees falling and other ice-related emergencies.

“Thank God that many individuals stayed home and did not venture out during the time it was at its worst,” Chandler said, adding that officers did an outstanding job overcoming the icy conditions to make it to work and serve the community. Some officers even stayed overnight in local hotels to minimize their commute, Police Chief Joe Clark said.

Fire Chief Scott Thompson echoed Chandler’s gratitude for residents staying home, and said his crews responded to an average amount of calls during the storm. In preparation for worse, the fire department put chains on its vehicles, brought its reserve ambulance into service, and utilized its SUV normally reserved for the city’s trail system as an alternative to larger, less ice-friendly vehicles.

And also like the police, firefighters and paramedics made sure they got to work on time or ahead of schedule. This proved particularly useful during the fire at Comfort Suites on Monday morning as extra crews were available to respond.

“That was a huge benefit, the guys getting there early,” Thompson said. “It was a key to success for that operation as the icy conditions slowed down the response of mutual aid from other community’s departments.”

More than road conditions, power outages throughout the city proved to be much more of a problem, and city facilities were not immune. Environmental/Facilities Maintenance Manager Terry Gilman said they did everything they could to prepare for the storm, more than in previous years in fact.

But when the power went out at city hall early Friday morning, there was a snowball effect of problems, from waste water issues to failing generators. Gilman characterized the weekend as a never-ending series of phone calls during which he was coordinating the work of his staff as well as serving as liaison with the city’s trash and recycling vendor.

Ice build-up on the roof of city hall transformed into water leaks by late Friday, requiring 12 staffers from public works in addition to facilities maintenance crews to chip the ice and take some of the weight off the building. But that wasn’t all. For example, employee Don Godfrey worked a 14-hour day putting down ice melt down around the police department headquarters and the fire stations. He brought heaters to the animal shelter, monitored the doors at city hall, and discovered the water leaks.

Heavy accumulations of ice on the roof of city hall lead to water leaks and, eventually, a forced power outage.

Heavy accumulations of ice on the roof of city hall lead to water leaks and, eventually, a forced power outage.

By Monday, the weight of the ice had generated enough pressure to break seals on the roof resulting in additional water leaks in the electrical room of city hall, requiring power be shut down manually.

Gilman credited his crews for working around the clock during the storm.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better response from my guys,” he said. “They were here all the time, out there working and doing what they could. Everybody put out maximum effort.”

Supporting all of these operations was the efforts of the communications staff. As the weather predictions became more ominous, the Communications Department shifted into high gear.

“It is critical during inclement weather or any major incident that we do the best in our capabilities of notifying the public of how the city is handling the situation,” Communications Director Diane Baxter said.

Not everyone uses the same mode of gathering information so there are many paths that communications staff must take. Their first step is to be at the table during pre-meetings to absorb the plans in place for the “what-ifs.” It is there that strategy is confirmed regarding how to handle informing not only the public but also employees as to the status of the city.

Between two staff members, communications monitors local news, tweets, Facebook posts and email not only for our city but for the entire North Texas area. Every television station is notified for closings or delayed openings. Media and staff are notified, and posts are made to the city’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Email blasts are sent to those who have signed up, but keeping in mind that if/when power goes out at city hall, servers may not be functioning, which prevents sending out emails or even updating the website, as was the case at times during the storm.

From wherever they may be during these types of events, the Communications Department diligently monitors the situation and works to disseminate important information as necessary.

“Technology, especially social media, has become such a valuable tool in assisting us to reach so many people,” Baxter said. “We encourage our residents to follow us on our city Facebook and Twitter sites for faster, up-to-date information.”

One of the unfortunate casualties of the storm was Saturday’s Parade of Lights and Holiday in the Park events. Like Gilman and Baxter, Recreation Manager David Swain spent much of the weekend on the phone coordinating the Parks and Recreation Department’s decision-making regarding the festivities.

It was a day-by-day process for Swain and his staff, and it wasn’t just about special events but also the usual Parks and Recreation facilities such as Kids Colony 2 and Five Star Park, as well as programs and classes going on. Swain said they created a “phone tree” in order to make sure everyone who needed to know about postponements and cancellations got the word.

A thick layer of ice and accompanying icicles on this pavilion at Kids Colony 2 were among the reasons why the park was temporarily closed during the ice storm.

A thick layer of ice and accompanying icicles on this pavilion at Kids Colony 2 were among the reasons why the park was temporarily closed during the ice storm.

For the Christmas events, that included everyone who signed up to be in the parade, contest participants, the grand marshal, the entertainment, vendors for the activities planned at the park, and, of course, Santa Claus.

Swain said the hectic nature of the weekend kept him from feeling too emotional about having to cancel the events.

“It’s definitely disappointing but since we’re the ones planning the event it’s less of an emotional thing for us than for the participants, like those who put in so much work on their parade entries,” he said. “For us, it’s more of a logistical thing. The Christmas event is one of our smaller events. But there’s a lot of moving parts, and a lot of different people involved. It was just about getting the notifications out and hoping that you reached everybody. It was pretty obvious to everyone that no one was going to be going out for a parade.”

Swain also pointed out that much of the coordination was being done remotely, as was the case for many staffers in all departments, which added extra challenges.

“A lot of us live in various places. It’s hard to know exactly what the conditions were in The Colony if you don’t live here. [Special Events Coordinator] Lindsey Stansell lives here so she was our eyes on the scene,” he said. “But most everyone is at home dealing with heater issues, pipes freezing, things like that while also trying to manage this event. Between juggling kids and everything else, everybody’s lives were disrupted. It was a crazy few days.”

Elsewhere in city operations, customer service staff put out signs in city hall and set up voicemail messages alerting residents to closures. Utility billing and overdue payments were extended. The city’s Information Technology staff members were busy keeping up with issues related to the power outages. Every time the power went off then back on, a variety of systems would require resetting.

Not long after the ice began to melt away, the city established a drop-off location for large tree limbs and branches at Hawaiian Falls.

Not long after the ice began to melt away, the city established a drop-off location for large tree limbs and branches at Hawaiian Falls.

The Finance Department worked on the city’s payroll and accounts payable in advance of the storm. Now they’re in the process of reviewing overtime costs and waiting for estimates on repairs.

Overseeing all these operations is City Manager Troy Powell, who also serves as the liaison between the administration and the city council. The council, in turn, funnels direct feedback from residents back to the administration regarding areas of concern city staff might not have seen.

But for the most part, there were very few areas in which the city was not already prepared.

“I was proud of how the team performed and reacted to the situation,” Powell said. “There’s only so much you can do but it was a pleasure to see all the preparation and planning being put to the test and performing extremely well.”

Story, photos by Blaine Crimmins, communications specialist for the city of The Colony.

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Worthy of a wave

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Animal control officers enforce important laws, ensure public health

Editor’s note: The following story chronicles a morning visit and ride-along with the staff at The Colony Animal Control Shelter.

Many a volunteer has signed up to put in time at The Colony Animal Shelter with high hopes of caring and nurturing for the animals, only to quickly learn how tough the job can really be.

A typical morning at The Colony Animal Shelter begins with cleaning all the litter boxes and dog kennels. With a small staff, it’s a one-person job on a rotating basis that takes hours to complete, requiring all the dogs to be moved from their indoor kennels to those on the outside. It’s Ahmad Moore’s turn today, and he’s too busy to talk.

Things aren’t any slower for the officers hitting the streets. Mornings are among the busiest times of day as residents awake to whatever issues wildlife and stray animals may have generated overnight. Evenings are busy, too, for the same reason as people arrive home from work.

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Signs like this one along the Shoreline Trail remind residents to obey the city’s leash laws, which are an important part of Animal Services’ efforts to safeguard public health.

Today, the first stop for Animal Control Officer Robert Cox is in a lakeside neighborhood  where overnight  a skunk had found its way inside someone’s home. The carcass was left inside a trash bag on the curb. No amount of plastic could contain the skunk’s odor as we traveled throughout the city with the creature’s remnants in the bed of the truck. Later that morning, it would be joined by the bodies of two squirrels that fell victim to vehicular collisions.

Collecting and transporting road kill and otherwise deceased wildlife is among the many “eww” tasks animal control officers must accomplish on a routine basis. The carcasses are taken back to the shelter where they are placed in an incinerator, which provides an efficient means of disposal not just for the squirrels and skunks but also the dogs and cats who have been euthanized at the facility.

While some years are better than others, euthanasia rates at The Colony Animal Shelter are currently low, which is indicative of the overall animal control system functioning at its best.

“We have worked very hard on lowering our euthanasia rates,” said Patricia Barrington, Animal Services Division manager, adding that it’s been months since they’ve had to put down an animal for reasons other than health or temperament.

Another routine task is patrolling the Shoreline Trail and city parks to watch for strays or loose animals off their leash. Leash laws are on the books for a reason, and they are strictly enforced in The Colony. The most-dangerous animal encounter that officers face, Cox said, isn’t a bobcat, snake, or coyote but potentially aggressive dogs, which highlights why leash laws are vitally important to the community.

Barrington said ensuring the safety of residents is among the main reasons why leash laws require strict enforcement.

“It is very rare that a child walking home from school is attacked, threatened or bitten by a dog or cat contained in a home or fence or controlled by a leash,” she said. “The majority of animal bites are committed by free-roaming or stray animals.”

But it’s not just humans that require protection. Leash laws safeguard animals, as well.

“Your pet is less likely to be hit by a car if under your control on a leash,” Barrington said. “Free-roaming or stray animals are easy prey and convenient meals for predators such as bobcats and coyotes.”

Public health for both humans and pets also benefits from enforcement of leash laws.

“Pets that are kept within the parameters of leash laws are less likely to come into contact with high-risk rabies carriers such as skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes and coyotes,” Barrington said. “A domestic animal that tangles with a rabid raccoon and then finds his way home could potentially expose countless humans, not to mention other household pets, which if also allowed to roam come into contact with even more animals and humans.

“The potential for catastrophe is real and should be taken seriously.”

So when an animal control officer patrols the parks, he or she is taking an active role in maintaining a safe and healthy environment for The Colony’s residents. Rather than issue citations, the officer hopes first and foremost to encourage a sense of civic duty and common courtesy.

“It’s very simple – society has an expectation of behavior.  No one wants to have to worry about being threatened by a stray dog trying to get to their cars in the morning,” Barrington said. “No one wants to run over dog poop with the lawn mower in their front yard – especially if that person doesn’t even own a dog. Part of being a good neighbor is being a responsible pet owner.”

Tyson

Tyson, an adoring and attentive 3-year-old Pit Bull Terrier Boxer mix, looks sheepishly at the camera during his stay at The Colony Animal Shelter.

Cox soon receives a call reporting a stray dog on Caldwell Avenue. It’s a black Lhasa Apso. A microchip scan later reveals his name is Shaggy and he’s from Frisco. This is the second time he’s wandered off from home only to end up at The Colony Animal Shelter. Shaggy’s owner is soon contacted and scheduled for pick-up.

However, not all strays are so lucky as to have an owner so quickly en route for collection. There is limited space available at the shelter, and every new stray animal taken off the streets puts additional pressure on the facility’s capacity. Policy dictates that new strays are held for up to four days to allow the owner ample opportunity to reclaim the pet.

That said, “any animal in the shelter is ultimately taking up space. Once capacity is met, animals that  have been at the shelter the longest or the ones with obvious injuries, health or behavioral issues are euthanized in order to accommodate the new intakes spending their four-day grace period at the shelter in hopes an owner will step up,” Barrington said.

Cox’s final call of the morning involves mediating an incident in which dogs of neighboring homeowners fought or were otherwise overactive with each other, resulting in injury to one of the dogs. Upon seeing the dog bleeding profusely from its ear, Cox advises the pet owner to seek veterinary treatment. Animal Control officers are not medics, and pets are viewed as property in the eyes of the law. Cox informs the parties the incident is a civil matter, and he encourages them to secure their fence lines and pets at all times.

It may sound cliché, but working in The Colony Animal Services Division is indeed often a thankless job with misunderstood responsibilities. More than dogcatchers, TCAS staff members are tasked with promoting responsible pet ownership and safeguarding the public. It’s a perception Barrington works hard to manage during her annual visits with school children in the spring.

“I tell all of the kids that if you see one of those animal trucks, please wave and smile. Not many people are happy to see us, but the kids understand we do really good work,” she said. “The guys love patrolling school zones because those kids wave and smile so big when they see them.’”

Story by Blaine Crimmins, communications specialist with the City of The Colony.