As winter 2022-2023 approaches, Whatcom County Public Works is facing significant staffing shortages for weather response operations – specifically, a shortage of employees who are licensed, qualified, and experienced in operating snow plows.
Operating heavy equipment, like snow plows, requires a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and minimum training hours to operate on public roadways. Running at capacity, the department typically would have 54 trained CDL drivers for emergency work, including snow plow operations. Currently, County resources are limited to 40 employees with sufficient training and licenses to perform this work. Several factors have contributed to this shortage including the booming construction economy placing a premium on equipment operator jobs, experienced workers retiring, recent FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) regulation changes that impacted County processes and ability to acquire CDL licensing, and the pandemic limiting CDL training opportunities for staff.
Whatcom County Public Works is continuing to hire Road Maintenance Workers this fall. However, it takes an average of six months for someone to get a CDL license if they don’t arrive with one. Even after someone gets a CDL, we thoroughly prepare and train our crews before they operate on public roadways. The safety of our employees and the public must always be our highest priority.
As a result of these staffing shortages, we are asking residents to prepare and make contingencies in case we are unable to provide snow plowing at the same service levels as in previous years. A lack of operators means there will be fewer plows and other equipment on the roads during extended snow storms. It will likely take longer for crews to get to secondary roads.
We understand that the present challenges to our operations may cause concern in your community. If you have questions or want to share your concerns, contact us here. Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.
Information about how we prioritize roads during winter storms can be found on our Snow and Ice Management webpage.
Read our Winter Snow and Ice Plan.
Read our Snow and Ice Frequently Asked Questions webpage.
How You Can Prepare for Winter Storms:
- Keep up with weather forecasts and know when snow and ice are expected to impact our area.
- Prepare in advance. Have sufficient staples like groceries and medication to stay at home for multiple days in a row.
- Stay home if you can during and immediately after a winter storm.
- If you must travel, be prepared to drive on roads that have not been plowed, or may not have been plowed recently.
- Have tire chains and know how to use them.
- Get a vehicle winter maintenance checkup.
- Carry a basic winter survival kit in your vehicle.
- More winter driving tips from WSDOT.