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Heart of COG: John Snarr

Sep 15, 2016
COG Planner John Snarr

COG Principal Planner and Technical Manager John Snarr


John Snarr first arrived at COG in 1990, fresh out of the University of Virginia’s Urban and Environmental Planning Department and as an intern with the Town of Leesburg.  He got his start working part time on regional solid waste and recycling issues. Today, he wears three hats at COG – first as a Principal Planner in COG’s Department of Environmental Planning, as a Technical Manager overseeing the operation of COG’s website, and as a Technical Manager of COG’s Regional Incident Communication and Coordination System (RICCS) emergency alerting system. Here are three things you might not know about Snarr's work—spanning recycling, homeland security, and website design—that support COG and its members.

COG launched a new website this summer. Among the tasks? Ensuring that 25,000 committee documents were transferred to a modern, better-organized new site.  

COG’s first website re-design happened in 2003, and being “technically-inclined” Snarr was tapped to be part of the team. Once the site launched, he was charged with maintaining and updating the site.

Several years ago, Snarr and the other members of the core web team, including Andrew Austin, George Danilovics, Ricky Fishley, and Steve Kania, set out to pursue a second redesign of the COG website. In addition to needing a site with a more updated look, it was also their vision to modernize the way the site managed content and contacts.

It was no easy—or short—task, and Snarr was selected to oversee the process.  

The process involved conducting focus groups, working with multiple vendors, settling on how the site would be organized, and training staff. In addition to transferring 25,000 documents, more than 2,000 items were tagged as part of a new system to help visitors to the site easily locate content of interest. And, several of the 15-20 COG-related satellite sites were incorporated into the new site.  

One of the most interesting features of the new site for Snarr is a page which lists COG’s more than 200 committees. He likes it because it’s a visual representation of “how COG fits together.”

Metropolitan Washington recycles more than 40 percent of its solid waste.

For the last decade, Snarr has been working to ensure that this number continues to be on the rise

Snarr is the lead staff member working on the Go Recycle Campaign, a regional advertising initiative that promotes and educates residents about recycling at home and work. The campaign is directed by a regional coalition of stakeholders, sponsors, and members, who are organized by Snarr.

It’s Snarr’s job to build consensus among the stakeholders on messaging for the campaign, and he’s also a fundraiser, ensuring that the funding is available to effectively spread the group’s important message. He also takes the lead on working out the media plan, which directs how the group's message will be delivered, whether that is done through radio or television ads, or another platform. This year, Snarr helped the coalition mobilize a paid social media campaign on Facebook and Instagram. The campaign directed residents to and jurisdiction-specific online resources for recycling information. Another campaign is planned for the fall.

The RICCS system, used daily, has about 1,500 users in more than 50 groups and delivers more than 1,600 messages per year. More than 20 calls among regional leaders are convened through the system each year.

After 9/11, COG focused on improving the way that officials communicate across the region during emergencies.

Snarr was interested in helping to tackle this important challenge, and in 2002, he began working alongside COG Deputy Executive Director Stuart Freudberg to get the Regional Incident Communication and Coordination System (RICCS) off the ground. RICCS is a 24/7 system owned and maintained by COG that helps officials communicate during emergencies.

Snarr did a lot of the initial coordination work for setting up RICCS, writing up procedures, and laying out plans for who would be a member of the various communication groups—including Chief Administrative Officers, Emergency Managers, Watch Centers, and Police Chiefs. Additionally, he monitors daily use of the system.

“RICCS has definitely held up as a cornerstone regional homeland security tool,” said Snarr, “It’s something that’s used daily. It’s a huge regional accomplishment.”

He says it’s been rewarding to watch RICCS grow. Although members no longer receive messages on their pagers (remember those?), they’re still receiving day-to-day regional traffic and weather messages to their inbox and smartphones and participating in conference calls arranged by COG in order to make collective decisions about how the region operates under threats like Snowzilla or Hurricane Sandy.

What’s next for RICCS? Snarr is working with area leaders to build a watch desk with staff dedicated exclusively to regional emergency messaging around the clock. 


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