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Snow Removal Planning for Community Associations

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Posted by Duane McPherson, CMCA, PCAM® on Feb 2, 2017 8:12:00 AM


I was talking with a friend recently regarding the challenges that they have with snow removal, and how they were managing the record snowfall that they have had so far this year. In certain areas of our nation, the snowfall has been significant, and in some instances, welcome reprieve due to droughts.   Snow removal for community associations is something that has to be planned for, knowing mother nature throws us curveballs all of the time. Snowfall like any other natural phenomenon is not predictable, but we do have an idea of when it can occur. Forecasts and data will give us a historical perspective of what has happened in previous years. (Unless of course it snows in July, which I have seen.) I remember how difficult it was when I was managing a large-scale onsite lifestyle community to predict the kind of snow removal year we were going to have. I found it was best to be rather pessimistic when budgeting for snow removal and other weather related events. It is always better to have enough resources to accomplish the unexpected than to go back to our community association members with a special assessment. We cannot predict everything, but it's best to avoid surprises whenever possible.

One critical part of the planning process in trying to anticipate snow removal while thinking logically about emergency services. During a snow removal emergency, it may be many miles to the end of some of the larger HOA road systems and emergency services are critical. It was hard whenever we got significant snowfalls to make sure that we had it all removed in a timely fashion. Additionally, when you’re thinking about snow removal, it is imperative that you have a well thought out plan in place that takes into consideration all of the factors that are involved.  Emergency access for police, fire, EMS vehicles and other emergency vehicles is a major factor.  Snow removal can be extremely complex whether you get a dusting of snow every once in a while or record snowfall. How the emergency is handled is the appropriate key for management of a community association.  While one year there may be a significant snow event next year it might be little more than a minor dusting inconvenience, but we must still be prepared none-the-less.

The following case study illustrates one association's planning process and some of the methods employed in establishing how a snow emergency should be handled. 

Case Study: 

An association with 150 miles (300 lane miles association maintained road system) of roads had snow removal equipment consisting of, four trucks with sanders and plows and two road graders with V plows to remove the snow from the road system. Also, they had a front-end loader and backhoe for small confined areas. The community did not have curb and gutters, so the snow was able to be pushed to the side of the road. For community associations with curb and gutters, the snow removal costs escalate drastically when they have to plow to the center of the road, and in some cases, haul it with trucks. 

While there is no known method of accurately predicting snowfall, there are methods of calculating historical factors and developing a plan based on those snowfall statistics and having an action plan ready. This particular association kept accurate snowfall records including dates, snowfall, amounts, problems that occurred during the snow removal emergencies and above all operating costs. Fuel consumption, equipment hours (operating expenses), rental equipment, outside contractors, and labor including overtime are all easily tracked and can help you to predict what you are going to need when budgeting for a typical snow removal season. Historical data is essential in delivering the service level to the association that is necessary to combat the snow emergencies. In addition to statistics available through the HOA, there was other weather data available through the National Weather Service at  

The road system was first divided into emergency routes so that during a heavy snowfall they were kept open without fail.  Emergency services were included in the discussions of the plan to ensure that they were aware of, and in agreement, with the procedures.  The emergency routes usually consisted of central parkways and major thoroughfares. We created a color-coded route map which was included in the plan and distributed to emergency services, schools and other interested entities in the removal of the snow during significant and routine snow emergencies. By color coding the maps and establishing the routes it allowed for emergency vehicle access throughout the community. We also strategically placed snow removal equipment so it could be quickly dispatched to areas with an emergency to clear secondary roads if needed. In communicating with emergency services, it is essential that a clear communication protocol is set up, so that on-site association staff and emergency services are in contact throughout the snow event. A centralized communication system is a crucial component for the association members as well. All interested parties were aware of the communication protocols, and the plan was followed with success. 

In addition to the annual budget, a Road Operating Reserve Fund threshold was configured to fund overtime, equipment usage, fuel, rental equipment and contractors for extreme emergencies and was gradually funded over a three-year period. While a typical or even semi-extreme snow emergency was budgeted for in the operating budget, the Operating Reserve handled the unexpected. This fund was not touched and eventually interest from the fund was used to fund other road projects in the community. As a consequence long term, the community did not have to worry about a shortfall for significant snow events.

The short answer for snow removal is planning human, equipment and financial resources to cover the emergencies and avoiding any long-term financial or safety issues that can arise from significant snow events. Depending on the association, some areas are prone to natural phenomena such as snow, fire, flood, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Planning for those occasions and having resources in place for natural’s unexpected events that could occur is essential for all on-site managed community associations both large and small. An on-site manager in conjunction with their professional management company have the skills and experience to assist the boards and associations we serve in creating and implementing long-term plans that include the what ifs of associations management. Lifestyle is paramount and how we deal with snowfall affects the lifestyle of the community.

If you enjoyed reading this case study, you might also be interested in Opportunities for Aging On-site Managered Communites

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Duane McPherson, CMCA, PCAM®

Duane McPherson, CMCA, PCAM®

Over 30 years experience in property and community association management Professional Community Association Manager through the Community Association Institute (CAI) Former GM/CEO of a large-scale association: mixed-use commercial, residential and recreational Contributor to National industry experience