When the severe May 8 hailstorm started pelting Lakewood’s Street Maintenance Facility, windshields began to shatter from the golf ball-sized hail, flooding the interiors of the personal cars belonging to maintenance crew members. But the crew ignored the damage to their cars and headed immediately to the City’s snowplows and other vehicles to remove as much as a foot of hail on some roads and clear clogged storm drains.
“Everyone reported back to the office and jumped into a plow. By 2:58 p.m. all trucks were out on the street,” said Kyle Beck, maintenance operations engineer who manages a crew of 42 staff members. “They understand the common goal: During emergencies (they) have to come out and put Lakewood citizens first.”
About 15 percent of the City’s major roads were affected by the intense storm, and Beck worked with the Police Department to provide a rapid coordinated response to the storm’s impact. The Police Department, for example, closed the intersection of Kipling and West Alameda parkways to allow the snowplow crews to clear it of hail and debris. The traffic cameras available at intersections were used to scan for problem areas so the snowplow crews knew where to head, enhancing the City’s real-time response.
Emergency calls to the Police Department spiked with 160 calls in an hour during the storm, mostly from drivers frightened and distressed about how to proceed given their smashed windshields. That amount of calls was two to three times the normal call volume for police.
Mike Whiteaker also started getting frantic calls and alarms about traffic signals right away. As the city’s traffic engineering manager, his crew is responsible for maintaining the traffic signals, and the storm caused some signals to go to flashing mode and some were left without power. Crew members headed out immediately to get as many signals back online as quickly as possible.
The traffic crews’ dedication was “really commendable. Instead of dealing with their own issues, they kept on working,” Whiteaker said.
The snowplow crews stayed on the road until 6 p.m., putting in 11.5 hours on the day of the storm. Crew members were back on the street the next day clearing debris from stormwater inlets, and the Traffic Engineering Division started surveying the 200 intersections with traffic signals in the city to assess what happened to them in the storm. Some 26 of those sustained damage, particularly to the visors that protect the lighted bulbs from damage.
“I’m proud to lead an organization that I know is filled with employees dedicated to serving the public,” said City Manager Kathy Hodgson. “In times of stress, they respond with professionalism, and the May 8 hailstorm is an example of their commitment to getting the job done.”
Assessing the damage and determining what needed to be addressed immediately so that service to residents wasn’t significantly interrupted was daunting given that the City has more than 100 City buildings, a similar number of parks, 123 miles of major streets and 650 vehicles. But employees across the organization demonstrated their dedication by going above and beyond to rise to challenges the storm created. Many worked overtime, some on weekends, to ensure that the City was as responsive as possible to the needs of residents.
“It’s a huge endeavor because we got hit really hard,” said Seerie Southwick, the City’s risk manager who oversees the City’s insurance claims. “You can’t really imagine how many things had to be checked.” But she noted that the storm “hasn’t disrupted any services.”
The Fleet Division, which manages the maintenance for all City vehicles, was quickly inundated. Fifty to 60 cars including police patrol cars had to be repaired immediately to get them back on the road, and work eventually involved 187 vehicles. More than 25 percent of the City’s cars sustained damage.
“I’ll be honest with you. It’s been really tough,” said Fleet Division Manager Nina Hoffert. “Headlights, tail lights, cowlings, lenses from brake lights – it’s a multistep (process) for every single vehicle.”
It also involved community partners. Beverly Hills Glass, a Lakewood windshield and glass contractor, responded with full support. “The storm was May 8. They were here at 7 o’clock May 9, making sure every windshield was fixed. Even the owner of the company was here for days,” Hoffert said. “They put everybody else aside to make sure” the City’s cars were roadworthy.
Hoffert credits Fleet Maintenance Supervisor Ramon Montoya for keeping everything running smoothly even with the staggering amount of work and coordination.
No team has felt the impact more than the Permit Counter Section in the Public Works Department. The department worked with the City Manager’s Office communications team to prominently post online resources quickly for businesses and residents on the City’s website. This step called attention to the department’s service that allows residents to apply, pay for and receive roofing permits online without having to come to City Hall. As a result, Lakewood avoided having long lines of contractors and residents waiting at the permit counter.
A link to the City’s registered roofing contractors was another resource provided online, and the website gave information about how to avoid scams. The department also reactivated its roofing hotline, which has been averaging 80 calls a day.
Permit Counter Supervisor Karen Phillips expects the City to process 15,000 permits in the coming months for roof repairs. She and others worked overtime, including on weekends, to keep up with the demand, and three other staff members were trained on the permit process to help handle the load.
“We knew what we had to do. We’re ahead of the curve, proactive rather than reactionary,” Phillips said.
The City has now added a part-time permit person as well as additional part-time inspectors who are primarily West Metro Fire Rescue staff members with building code experience to ensure Lakewood maintains a high level of service.
The permit counter is currently “getting 150 roofing permits a day,” Phillips said. “Normally, we get five to 10 a week.”
But the team has been able to stay on top of the demand, with permit applications being processed within a day of when they are received.
Hoffert best summarizes how City staff responded. “Emergency management is what we do for a living. It’s just not necessarily seen that way,” she said.