Risk Management in the Snow

Filed under Risk | Posted by PMStudent

We had a LOT of snow over the Christmas holiday.? A LOT.

NOT the vehicle I drove around in!

Having barely made it out to my in-laws for my birthday celebration (and even more Christmas presents for my 3 spoiled sons) we stayed the night because it was getting worse and the snow plows weren’t going to be out until the next day in that area.

I wouldn’t have driven back on Saturday around noon but our dog Snickers needed to be cared for.? So I left the family safe and warm inside and I ventured out.


No, I didn’t get stuck or slide into the ditch.? Fooled you!

I started thinking about the heightened level of risk all around me.? Looking at it from a project manager’s eyes who has always taken risk management seriously, I started to notice some things that were important to me in this risky situation.


  • Before I left in the first place, I checked my city’s website to check the status of our fleet of snow plows.? It enabled me to plan a route that was longer, but less risky.
  • I also checked Twitter.? Unfortunately the references to “my street” were not helpful.? Sometimes data is unreliable for use in risk management decisions.

Equipment and Materials

In an area that gets a lot of snow, you have to be prepared.? Some years we don’t get a big blizzard at all.? Other years it can get pretty bad.

How do we mitigate this risk using equipment and materials?

  • We own 4×4 trucks, snow blowers, shovels, and of course warm clothes.
  • We own small cars too, but we don’t drive them when it’s like this out!
  • We pack winter survival gear in our vehicles so that if we get stuck somewhere we don’t freeze to death.
  • We throw shovels and chains when it’s bad just in case we get stuck or need to help someone else who is stuck in the snow.
  • We make sure our cell phones are fully charged and the gas tank is full.


As I was driving home, I made sure to leave a decent amount of space between me and the car to the front and side of me.? In case the vehicle on my side started to slide, I wanted to have plenty of room to react.? If possible I would speed up or slow down slightly so we were staggered and not directly across from each other.

The space in front of me was for 2 reasons.

  • I wanted to have plenty of room so that if I started sliding when trying to stop, I would have extra room to gain control and not crash into the vehicle in front of me.
  • I wanted plenty of room so that if a vehicle coming up behind me started to slide I could gently move forward into the buffer and prevent a collision from behind.

Attention & Feedback

All that buffer wouldn’t have done much for me if I wasn’t vigilant.? I had to be sure the channels of information flow were open so I knew immediately if something bad was going down, what it was, and in many cases respond with an action I had already pre-planned.

  • All my windows and mirrors were well cleared of ice and snow so I could see what was going on around me.
  • I kept the defroster on to prevent the wind shield and side windows from fogging up.
  • When coming to a stop, I kept a constant eye out for cars coming up behind me so if they started sliding I could use that buffer in front of me.
  • I paid attention to the cars beside me too so I could react if they started sliding or decided at the last minute to change lanes while they had poor visibility due to being too lazy to clear their windows properly (yeah, that one happened)

Method of Operations

Finally I drove the truck in such a way to mitigate my risk of being on the road at such a lousy time.

  • I drove slow and deliberately.
  • When stopping it was gradual so as to not start sliding.
  • Looking ahead more than usual to see upcoming obstacles, etc.
  • On 2-lane roads I stayed in the left lane.? This got me out of the way of crazy people who were turning on to the main street in little golf cart-like cars by gunning it through a 3-foot pile of snow the plows left. (yeah, that one happened too.? Several times.? Some got stuck, some made it through and careened out into the middle turning lane.)
  • I used 4×4 low gear on unplowed residential streets and 4×4 high gear on the plowed streets.

There’s probably more that I just can’t think of right now.? (How about “not living in South Dakota” as a mitigation plan!)

So how does this relate to risk management on your projects?? How do you use data, equipment and materials, contingency, attention & feedback, and your method of operations to perform what I always like to call CONTINUOUS risk management?

Leave your comment below!