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How site mapping can improve efficiency

June 5, 2017 -  By
Illustration: ©

Illustration: ©

When Winter Storm Jonas dropped several feet of snow throughout the eastern U.S. in January 2016, Kevin Shackleford’s plow crews had their work cut out for them. Fortunately, Shackleford, owner of Shackleford Landscape Group based in Bear, Del., had implemented a snow site mapping and marking system a few seasons earlier that positioned his plow crews to be prepared when the snow started to fall.

“Once it starts snowing, everyone has a lot going through their heads and that’s not the best time to try to explain stuff,” says Shackleford, whose company provides 50 percent maintenance, 25 percent snow removal, 15 percent fertilization and 10 percent landscape installation services to a 60 percent commercial, 40 percent residential clientele. “The system was very beneficial last year when we got hit with 3 to 4 feet of snow, so we rolled it out more intensely this season. We are trying to alleviate the problems that can occur during plowing season.”

Photo: Shackleford Landscape Group

Map quest
Shackleford Landscape Group keeps things simple with hand-marked, printed out maps. Photo: Shackleford Landscape Group

Shackleford says his site mapping and marking system helps his operators plow the company’s commercial properties more efficiently and effectively. He uses maps of each property taken from Google to draw out the snow-plowing plan, which indicates where crews should begin plowing once they arrive on-site and where they can place large piles of snow. The maps are color-coded and broken down into individual plowing zones to help make the job more manageable. They are reviewed by crews in the office and are also kept inside the trucks, so crew members can refer to them as needed.

“By printing out the maps and going over things with the guys, we’re all on the same page,” Shackleford says, adding that the company also discusses contingency plans for what to do if cars happen to be in the way. “Just in case someone has to jump in and take over for someone, or if there is a large snowfall and we have to run people on rotation, we keep maps on the trucks for backup.”

In addition to the maps, Shackleford places a combination of color-coded stakes and poles on each property to help with visibility once the snow piles up. Red stakes indicate fire hydrants, yellow and orange stakes are used to mark curbs, purple stakes indicate stormwater drains and blue stakes are used to mark manhole covers.

Once the property is marked, crews drive through the site a few times to confirm the best route. Marking the property helps prevent any code or safety violations by, for example, keeping hydrants accessible to fire departments. Keeping stormwater drains clear also aids in the snow’s natural melting process.

Photo: Shackleford Landscape Group

Stake smart
Color-coded stakes and poles signify key property elements, like fire hydrants, curbs, stormwater drains and
manhole covers. Photo: Shackleford Landscape Group

“Once you stack the snow on-site the job isn’t over. We still need to monitor the site for refreezing of melting snow at night,” Shackleford says. “By keeping stormwater drains clear, we maximize the site’s natural drainage design, which is to our advantage.”

Shackleford says he starts soliciting his snow clients in July and August and finalizes contracts in October and November. He uses the remaining window of time before the first snow to map and mark each site. Each process takes one to three hours, depending on the size of the property. Shackleford says this is time well-spent.

“Mapping out an entire site might be time-consuming due to planning for different conditions, but it’s well worth it,” he says.

Shackleford says his snow site mapping process saves his crews time and prevents potential damage to clients’ properties as well as to his equipment.

Photo: Shackleford Landscape Group

Photo: Shackleford Landscape Group

“When you’re working long hours during a blizzard, you might have someone doing 8- to 10-hour shifts, so there will be fatigue and guys aren’t going to be as sharp as they were at the beginning of a shift,” he explains. “If you can have stuff marked out, it helps crew members and saves us time. There are fewer surprises.”

For contractors interested in implementing a snow site mapping process, Shackleford suggests spending significant time on the planning and organizing phase. This prep includes meeting with the clients to talk about their property and help identify any hypersensitive areas the company should pay particular attention to. Even with all the preparation, Shackleford says he still has to make adjustments to the plans, particularly for new customers’ properties. He evaluates what worked, what didn’t and any ways to improve the service provided to the client.

“I would definitely say to invest in the planning phase,” he says. “It’s kind of time-intensive, but it saves time, money and energy when you get into larger snowfalls. Your guys are going to know what to do.

“Marking and mapping properties is commonly overlooked in the snow service business,” Shackleford adds. “The value of doing it isn’t realized until a large snowfall occurs.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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