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COVID-19 is a wound that is starting to heal, but it will not be the last challenge posed to our communities. Public works will no doubt face disasters, emergencies and other challenges that will disrupt day-to-day operations. APWA committee members want to make sure you consider these points when boosting or maintaining employee morale during challenging times. 

  • Maintain a sense of humor. Laughing is okay and sometimes extremely helpful in relieving stress and anxiety, as laughing releases oxytocin (the feel-good hormone). Laughing feels good! It is a tried-and-true coping mechanism.

  • Try to take a break from what brings you anxiety or stress. Stress takes vital energy from you. Give your mind as well as your body a break. For many public works professionals, the job tests the mind as well as the body. Breaks can be as simple as listening to music, taking a walk, doing yoga, or meditating.

  • Focus on how things can be improved, not the inconveniences caused by the recent changes. The world, our personal lives and careers challenge us every day; focus on solutions rather than the problems.

  • Ask questions and share your feelings and thoughts with your colleagues. Sharing can help turn anxiety into a more positive perspective and help one feel like “normal” is right around the corner. Managers and supervisors, meet with your teams regularly, ask them to share their thoughts, and provide frequent updates.

  • Share education or seek out training. Refer to professional training organizations to educate yourself and others. Leadership or technical training can only make you more prepared for the next big challenge.

  • Don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel, and don’t hesitate to use your networks. Reach out to APWA members and other public works professionals to find new current practices.

  • Be free with acknowledgements and praise. Showing appreciation and acknowledging people during a difficult situation goes a long way.

  • Look to the future. Imagine one thing you are going to do when this is all over. Will it be drinking a glass of wine on the beach, volunteering in your community, or attending a sports event? It can even be as simple as visiting out-of-town family. Set that goal, envision it, dream about it, and try to remain positive.


In 2019, Maricopa County, Arizona, was testing new technology to make roads safer for motorists and transportation workers. The new technology connected vehicles and surrounding infrastructure, allowing them all to communicate.

In an emergency, first responder vehicles send an alert to infrastructure, and the infrastructure alerts traffic signals and surrounding vehicles to an emergency on the roadways.

Watch the following episode of APWA Roving Reporter to see the technology in action.

Maricopa County did not stop with connected vehicles. It is now implementing a Smarter Work Zone initiative to combat high numbers of accidents involving pedestrians and work zone workers. The initiative has three goals:

  • Safety: Improve speed limit compliance through work zones; thus, reducing the number of accidents in work zones.
  • Mobility: Improve travel time reliability (alternate routes); thus, reducing queues resulting from the work zone.
  • Assess feasibility for arterial roads.

To improve safety, provide alternate routes, and assess feasibility of alternate routes, the design of the project must have five role-specific spots along the road:

  1. Inform: Inform drivers of work zone conditions and alternate routes.
  2. Advise: Advise drivers of work zone conditions.
  3. Warn: Warn drivers of work zone conditions and change speed assignment.
  4. Check: Gather speed feedback from vehicles.
  5. Stand-alone detection: Collect traffic data on perpendicular road.

Public works employees should never be in danger when working on our roads, and drivers should always have information when entering a work zone. Maricopa County’s initiatives use data to change driver behavior and improve the safety of workers. The initiative is proof that workers and drivers can operate safely together; and relaying information is the key to success.


Joe Kroboth, III, PE, LS, PWLF
APWA Representative to the TCD
Director, Transportation and Capital Infrastructure
Loudoun County, Virginia

With review and contributions by:
Marshall Elizer, PE
Assistant Secretary
Multimodal Development & Delivery
Washington State Dept. of Transportation

The American Public Works Association is afforded a rare opportunity to participate and provide representation on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Technical Committee on Geometric Design (TCGD). This Committee is responsible for developing and updating several publications, like A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, more commonly known as the AASHTO Green Book, and similar policy documents.

AASHTO, and its predecessor AASHO, have set the standard in highway design policy since the 1940s. The fundamental processes of highway and street design have remained essentially unchanged since its origin. During the past 75 years, transportation needs have evolved, and much has been learned about the relationships among geometric design, vehicle characteristics, human factors, safety, context, and operations. The tide started to shift in 1998, when the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), in cooperation with AASHTO and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), hosted "Thinking Beyond the Pavement: A National Workshop on Integrating Highway Development with Communities and the Environment While Maintaining Safety and Performance." That conference was soon followed by the development of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program's (NCHRP) Research Report 480: A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context-Sensitive Solutions (2002), and then FHWA's Guide for Achieving Flexibility in Highway Design (2004). These documents led to the creation of the Context Sensitive Solutions/Design (CSS/D) process that considers physical aspects or standard specifications of a transportation facility and the economic, social, and environmental resources in the community being served by that facility. In 2014, NCHRP Research Report 785: Performance-Based Analysis of Geometric Design of Highways and Streets was released. Later in 2017, NCHRP released Research Report 839: A Performance-Based Highway Geometric Design Process. These documents send a message to the highway and street engineering industry: times are about to change. The old-fashioned approach to highway and street design has taught us to accept minimum design criteria to produce adequate performance and safety for the traveling public. Our highway and street design paradigm has been to meet these standards or criteria rather than to specifically provide sustainable traffic operations and safety (Neuman et al., 2017).

The TCGD embraces the notion of context-sensitive, multimodal, performance-based design and intends to integrate the concepts found in Research Report 785 and 839 and other modern engineering research into the eighth edition of the Green Book (GB8). Modern-day research findings suggest all geometric designs should be measured in the metrics of transportation performance, including mobility for all modes, accessibility, safety, maintenance, operations, and state of good repair. Research Report 839 suggests geometric design criteria for any given project should be established based on the context of the project location and not limited to the facility type. Maybe we should be asking ourselves, "What is the place-type where this roadway is located, and what are the appropriate characteristics of the roadway within this place?"

Performance-based design incorporates a design process that considers explicit consideration of performance measures, typically operational and safety performance measures. Each design decision should be explicitly assessed in terms of its potential impact on operations and safety (Neuman et al., 2017, p. 13). The companion report, NCHRP 785: Performance-Based Analysis of Geometric Design of Highway and Streets (Ray et al., 2014), provides a principals-focused approach that looks at the outcomes of design decisions as to the primary measure of design effectiveness. These research reports push highway designers to select performance measures that align with outcomes, evaluate the impact of alternative geometric design decisions on those performance measures, and arrive at solutions that achieve the overall desired project outcomes.

If you intend to be a highway and street design practitioner for several more years, do not wait any longer to get up to speed on the latest research in context-sensitive, multimodal, performance-based highway and street design decision-making.


Ray, B.L. et al. (2014). Research Report 785, Performance-based analysis of geometric design of Highways and streets. Found at: National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Transportation Research 

Neuman, T.R. et al. (2002). Research Report 480, A guide to best practices for achieving context-sensitive solutions. Found at: National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Transportation Research

Neuman, T.R. et al. (2017). Research Report 839, A performance-based geometric design process. Found at: National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Transportation Research 


Mark Ray, P.E.
Director of Public Works, City of Crystal, MN

In May 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reached out to the American Public Works Association to aid in updating public works resource typing documents that are part of the online Resource Typing Library Tool (RTLT). The RTLT documents, as they relate to positions (as compared to equipment), help to establish the minimum qualifications for someone filling this role. A side benefit of these position descriptions is that they could help to serve as a resource for public works departments when trying to establish baseline position descriptions for their staff. One important note is that FEMA had already worked with the American Water and Wastewater Association (AWWA) on revising the public works positions that relate to water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. So those positions were not in the scope of APWA’s involvement. APWA’s Emergency Management Committee reached out to the APWA membership using the Emergency Management infoNOW listserv to engage members who would be interested in participating in this effort. Nineteen members responded and actively contributed over a one-year period to help FEMA revise and update these RTLT position descriptions.

Key Resources

Before diving into the project details, it is important to understand two key resources FEMA has that are available online. The first is the Resource Typing Library Tool (RTLT), and the second is the FEMA Schedule of Equipment Rates. The primary intent of the RTLT is to provide standardization of the language which people, equipment, and teams can be described. This is done so that when requests are made for mutual aid (especially across state lines), everyone will be using similar language so that expectations are met when requested resources arrive. FEMA’s Schedule of Rates is the document that lists the reimbursement rates based on the type of equipment. Not only is the rate dependent on the type of equipment, but within a certain type of equipment the rates can vary based on capacity, horsepower, or other factors.

Equipment Requests

One of the first work items recommended by the members was to remove the public works equipment from the RTLT and use FEMA’s Schedule of Equipment Rates as the way to standardize how equipment is referred to. In emergencies or other disasters, when public works equipment deploys to a situation, there can be a number of different types of equipment that might accomplish the same purpose. This means it is vital that the person requesting the equipment knows what is needed or is able to describe what the problem is they are trying to solve and what their goal is, so that other public works professionals can make recommendations on what equipment should be sent to meet the need. A great example of this could be a hydraulic excavator. Depending on the attachment put at the end of the boom, an excavator can be used for a wide range of tasks that may include tasks beyond digging (for example, moving trees with a grapple). When a request is made for an excavator, the request will be to complete a certain task. The size of the excavator and attachment will be based on that task. If someone requested a Type 1, Hydraulic Excavator (Medium Mass Excavation 4 cy to 1.75 cu buckets) according to the RTLT, there would likely be a variety of questions sent back to the requesting agency as to what task they are specifically trying to accomplish. The RTLT has the excavator sorted based on bucket size for the general category (of which there are three categories) with each category subdivided into four types. The FEMA cost code already breaks down the cost for the excavator by bucket size or horsepower. Just like we use plain language for communication in Incident Command System (ICS), we need to use plain language to communicate problems/goals when making requests as compared to asking for certain equipment with little consideration if that equipment is the best one to accomplish the desired goal. Furthermore, since the FEMA cost schedule has cost codes already included, public works departments can pre-enter the cost code information into their equipment asset management inventories as a preparedness step. Ultimately, FEMA agreed with APWA’s recommendation and removed the public works equipment from the RTLT.

Position Descriptions

When looking at the position descriptions, the working group identified a number of opportunities for changes. Fundamentally, the group tried to establish position descriptions that were generic enough to be able to cover the wide range of tasks that public works professionals do while still setting a benchmark for minimum qualifications. The final list of position descriptions that FEMA approved and integrated into the RTLT are:

  • Civil Engineer
  • Damage Assessment Team - Public Works
  • Debris Assessment Team
  • Debris Monitoring Team
  • Debris Operations Manager
  • Debris Planning Manager
  • Debris Supervisor
  • Debris Technical Specialist
  • Engineering Manager
  • Equipment Operator
  • Mechanic
  • Public Works Director
  • Public Works Safety Specialist
  • Public Works Supervisor
  • Public Works Support Team
  • Public Works Systems Manager
  • Public Works Systems Technician
  • Structural Engineer

The group also looked across all the position descriptions to establish how they relate to each other. Figure 1 shows the new position descriptions and how they relate to each other in terms of the supervisory hierarchy of the person that may fill that role. As an agency makes a request for mutual aid or as a public works department looks to integrate these position descriptions into their agency’s job descriptions, using Figure 1 to help take into consideration the supervisory hierarchy between position descriptions may be helpful.

As the working group looked at each of the original position descriptions that needed to be updated, it was clear that the titles of the positions did not necessarily align well with typical public works position descriptions. When looking at the details of each position description, each position has the following components: Description, Education, Training, Experience, Physical/Medical Fitness, Currency, and Professional and Technical Licenses and Certifications. The following sections break down the key principles that the group thought about for each component of each position description:

Description: The description talks about what this position would do and the main responsibilities. As the group worked through each position description, the primary intent was to be clear in how the given position description aligned with positions likely found within current public works departments across the United States.

Education: This section talks about the education requirements for a given position. As a reminder, the point of these position descriptions is to establish the minimum requirements. For the public works position descriptions, the educational requirements range from none to a bachelor’s degree.

Training: This section only talks about training as it relates to the Independent Study Courses offered for free from FEMA. Because these position descriptions are generally intended to be used for mutual aid requests, there naturally is an emergency management aspect to each position. The intent of this section is to establish the minimum emergency management-related training that a person in this role would need. From a typical public works job description standpoint, the group’s intent was that the job-related training would be covered under the “Experience,” “Currency,” and “Professional and Technical Licenses and Certifications” sections.

Experience: This section was intended to be very clear in connecting standard public works job responsibilities with what may be requested of that role as part of an emergency response. As an example, for the Equipment Operator position, the experience requirement (which again is just the minimum) is one year. The reason the group chose one year is because many public works departments have a one-year probationary period. Even if a public works department has an operator who is very skilled, the public works department should not deploy any staff member who is on probationary status. Looking at the Civil Engineer position, the experience requirement is one year following Professional Engineer licensure. Since people cannot sit for Professional Engineer tests until having at least four to five years of experience, the functional effect of this experience requirement is that an individual will have at least five to six years of experience before meeting the requirement for this role.   

Physical/Medical Fitness: In the “Currency” section of all the position descriptions it requires that the individual “currently works in this position in a municipal, county, state, tribal or territorial public works department.” Because each public works department will likely already have physical/medical requirements for their staff, the group felt that in this case it did not make sense to add any other provisions. That said, because personal protective equipment (PPE) is so vital to public works operations, the provision was included that the person must be able to wear the appropriate personal PPE while doing the assigned tasks.  

Currency: When a unit of government requests mutual aid, that request is intended for other units of government to respond to. Should the requesting government want resources from the private sector or volunteers, mutual aid would not apply because they can directly contract with the private sector resources and set up their own volunteer management system to coordinate volunteer assignments. Because of these factors, the requirement was set that each individual “currently works in this position in a municipal, county, state, tribal or territorial public works department.”

Professional and Technical Licenses and Certifications: Because the type of infrastructure, equipment, and associated tasks can vary widely for public works professionals, this section was left as not overly specific in defining the requirements. For this item, an agency requesting mutual aid would need to specify what, if any, professional or technical licenses or certifications would be required.  

Again, agencies looking to use the Resource Typing Library Tool (RTLT) when requesting mutual aid need to be aware that these position descriptions establish the minimum qualifications. Certain situations or needs may require that the requesting agency add some other provisions to the request. For example, if the requesting agency is looking for equipment operators for a certain type of equipment, while they can use the equipment operation position description, they should also add the type of equipment that they need operated. Finally, in the ideal world to help improve public works preparedness, public works departments would integrate components of these position descriptions into the job descriptions of their staff within their agency.


A big thank you to the following individuals that contributed many hours over nearly a year to this effort:

  • Albert Carbon III - Oakland Park, FL
  • Amy Rose - Louisville, KY
  • Brad Upson - Paragon Consulting Group, Inc
  • Craig Eldred - Waconia, MN
  • Dave Atkinson - Placer, CA
  • Don Wenzel - Rolling Meadows, IL
  • Eric Patterson - Harrisonville, MO
  • Graham Watts - Thousand Oaks, CA
  • Joe Fornaro - Kirtland, OH
  • Kathy Cryan - Madison, WI
  • Kristina Ramierez - Harker Heights, TX
  • Leon Berrett - Salt Lake County, UT
  • Loni Eazell - Los Angeles County, CA
  • Mark Ray - Crystal, MN
  • Pete Cavalli - Pinellas Technical College
  • Rob Cole - Olathe, KS
  • Ron Knoche - Iowa City, IA
  • Steve Ford - Las Vegas, NV
  • Vanessa Burns - Louisville, KY

Mark Ray is the past Chair of the Emergency Management Committee, represents APWA on the National Homeland Security Consortium, and is the Chair of the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Government Coordinating Council (SLTTGCC) for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Mark can be reached at or 763.531.1160.

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