Mr. Hutcheson


Snow and Ice: Pre-planning for Natural Disasters

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

Winter of 2014 was one of the most severe winters in recent history, with many major cities seeing anywhere from 100 to 300% more snowfall than usual and the "Polar Vortex" keeping the northern half of the United States in record cold temperatures for days at a time.

The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts this winter to be another arctic blast with above-average snowfall throughout much of the nation. Weather has proven to be cyclical, and we're in the early stage of a cycle. The severity of the storms the country experienced last year came as a shock to most - especially folks living as far south as Georgia.

One of the biggest challenges hotel owners, operators, managers, and other hospitality professionals will face this winter is keeping their properties safe from the snow and ice that comes with each storm. To avoid potential hazardous conditions and to ensure the safety of hotel properties and their guests, it's imperative for hotel professionals to understand the importance of snow and ice management and to have a plan in place.

By preparing in advance for winter storms and by following a few simple safety tips, property owners will be able keep their hotel landscapes beautiful and their guests, and employees safe and comfortable.

The Importance of Snow and Ice Management

  • Accessibility

From a revenue standpoint, snow and ice management is critical to the health and profitability of a business during the winter months. If a property is covered in snow and ice, paying guests will shorten or cancel their stays and employees will have difficulty accessing the building. To avoid this risk, make sure to identify all walkways, entrances, ramps, and parking lots that are at risk for ice and snow accumulation (due to grading, drainage issues, etc.) in advance so that property management teams can maintain these areas during big storms.

  • Reputation

Snow and ice management can also have an effect on the aesthetic appeal and reputation of a hotel. Landscapes should be maintained in the winter, just as they are in the fall, spring, and summer months. By choosing plants, flowers, and other vegetation that are durable in colder temperatures, your hotel will continue to be a vibrant, positive environment, even in the worst of weather conditions. A pleasant winter experience also increases the chance of a guest choosing to stay at your hotel again.

  • Safety and Liability

Snow and ice can be major liabilities to hotels and property management companies. Slip and fall claims from guests and employees can be incredibly costly (and time-consuming for busy hotel leaders). In addition to establishing a plan for removing snow and ice from the hotel's exterior, hotel property managers should also plan for any snow or ice that's tracked into buildings. Whether it's a maintenance crew that monitors entrances area or the insertion of rugs during the winter season, it's important to keep your property safe from the inside out.

Best Practices for Preparation

Maintaining a property during the winter months can be attributed to great planning and execution during the months leading up to winter and into the season.

  • Selecting a Qualified Snow and Ice Management Professional

Hospitality professionals must be aware of how dangerous and time consuming snow and ice management can be. There is a tremendous amount of time, manpower, and various costs associated with such a job. For example, purchasing all of the required equipment (snow blowers, all-terrain vehicles, plows, etc). It's also critical to keep in mind how heavy and deep snow and ice can get. It's not uncommon for equipment to break and wear more easily. Most hotels find it to be more cost-effective to hire outside snow and ice management vendors rather than attempting it themselves.

Snow and ice management contractors serve as great resources for property owners and provide them with expertise on the best way to keep their landscapes well maintained and safe during the winter season. When selecting a contractor, hotel operators should vet potential companies using the following criteria:

The size of the contractor's snow fleet - If you have a large property and have just hired a small snow fleet it will take them twice as long to clear the area, leaving guests and employees in an unhappy state. - How long have they been working in the area - A contractor who is familiar with the area will know what to expect and how to handle local storms - Their back-up plan in case of a major event - When major storms hit, snow and ice contractors are in high demand. Hotel operators must make sure that the contractor has ample back-up staff and equipment. A quality company will typically have an extra 10% of staff and equipment. (usually a buffer of 10% extra crew and equipment).

  • Pre-season Preparation

Once you've selected your snow and ice management partner, work with them to prepare for the winter. Your contractor should be able to identify areas that are at risk for ice accumulation as well as vulnerable trees that could fall or drop limbs during storms. You should work with your contractor to prioritize which hotel areas should be addressed first in the event of a storm, and discuss any unique circumstances (like major winter conferences, weddings, or events that could be affected by a snow emergency).

You should also have a plan in place for the possibility of multi-day storms. If a snow or ice storm spans several days, make sure that you and your contractor have agreed upon the frequency of plowing and how quickly you expect the contractor to be on site after precipitation has stopped.

  • Pre-treating Walkways and Sidewalks as Needed

In between visits from a snow and ice management professional, hotel operators should pre-treat walkways and sidewalks in anticipation of events. Sand or rock salt can provide excellent temporary ice control, but requires frequent reapplication. Using textured pads on sidewalks and walkways can also provide temporary ice control and gives guests more traction.

Keeping walkways clear of snow and ice is a futile effort if roofs aren't properly cleared of snow and ice as well. It's important that your snow and ice management company has clear, safe access to your roof and is aware of any potential hazards before a storm hits. Gutters should also be maintained and clear of debris in advance of storms to avoid excessive ice collection. Gutters full of ice can break under the ice's heavy weight and pose a huge risk for guests and employees.

Special Circumstances for 2014-2015 Winter

Last year's winter delivered some of the most severe weather the country has experienced in years, and this year is expected to be no different. Two harsh consecutive winters will create two unfortunate issues:

  • Shortages of Salt and Ice-Melt Products

Because local and suppliers of salt and ice melting products were unprepared for last year's winter, there was a shortage of these products. This problem was compounded by state and local governments purchasing large quantities, and the shortage will likely trickle into this year. Rock salt (in particular) is predicted to be more difficult to find, as it continues to be one of the most popular and effective tools for snow and ice removal.

Planning and stocking up early in the season will ensure your property has enough supply to get you through the winter. The first step is choosing the best deicing solution for your property. It's important to select the right solution for snow and ice management in order to minimize the amount of snow and ice buildup on sidewalks and other walkways. You must be aware that some solutions are made of certain types of salt that can have a harmful effect on animals, vegetation, cement, and water supply.

The most common deicing solutions on the market today contain sodium chloride. Comprised of pure rock salt, these agents are the most used solutions for maintaining snow and ice buildup. While rock salt might be the cheapest and the most plentiful among deicing solutions, it's also the most detrimental to the environment. It can also damage surfaces if it's been left on for too long - make sure to read instructions prior to application.

More environmentally friendly options include calcium chloride and potassium chloride. Although these solutions are more expensive, they are more effective in melting snow and ice at a faster rate and cause less damage to surface areas.

If you're looking for the most efficient way to melt ice, and if your property is in a region where temperatures hit as cold as -25 degrees Fahrenheit, calcium chloride is likely the best solution. Its application rate is lower than other products, and it is less toxic to the environment. Calcium chloride can be used to pre-treat properties before storms and then after to remove any ice that remains.

Once winter is in full force, prices typically increase and resources become limited. Once you've found a product that works for your property and budget, order it in large quantities. Additionally, if you have leftover salt from last season, store it in a dry place in order to maintain its effectiveness.

  • Rising Insurance Costs

Due to the severity of winter storms and increased fatalities, slip/fall claims, and property damage claims, insurance costs for hotel operators have skyrocketed. While proper storm preparation won't prevent your insurance premiums from increasing, it will help you avoid costly deductibles and legal fees. It's also imperative that any snow and ice contractors you work with have adequate insurance to cover unforeseen accidents.

In the event that an accident was to occur, it's essential that documentation is included when submitting any insurance claims. Make sure to take photographs of your landscapes, equipment, and any other assets that could be damaged. In doing so, you will have a better chance of the insurance company paying 100 percent of the policy. It would also be in your best interest to make a list of all your equipment and update photos in case any damage were to happen throughout the winter season.

Winter is coming quickly, so prepare now to make sure your hotel is safe and profitable throughout the season.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns. He joined the company in 1995 and has grown the organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national network of over 250-franchises in all 48 contiguous states. U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses. Mr. Hutcheson champions an entrepreneurial spirit and a teamwork culture. He’s skilled at developing employee, franchisee and customer bases that are anchored on a commitment to long-term relationships. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support is central to the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on industry lists. Mr. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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