Every morning you wake up, take a shower and drive to work. You think nothing of your daily morning routine, yet it would be impossible without the public works department.

The water you use, the streets you drive on, the parks you use are all under the jurisdiction of the Jenks public works department.

Some may ask, ‘if it’s so important, why have I never heard of it?’ Public works officials are asking the same questions.

“I really do believe that most people don’t have a very good understanding of what public works is all about and all the things that are involved in the operations,” Assistant City Manager Robert Carr said.

Public works in Jenks handles a larger range of duties than in most municipalities.

Public works covers engineering, water, wastewater, streets, parks and grounds, vehicle maintenance among other things. They play a vital role in having an easy flowing community.

But now they want to show exactly how important they are to the citizens of Jenks.

Over the next year Public Works plans to unveil a plan to show that Public Works staff are first responders, too. Public Works is responsible for clearing roadways and fixing water breaks at a moment’s notice. Police, fire, and public works all need each other to do their jobs.

“If a big storm came through here and debris was all over the place, it would be difficult for anybody to get to a site until the streets get cleared off,” Carr said. “Police and fire can’t even get to places until roads are cleared… Everyone seems to think police and fire are the first responders, and they are in a lot of cases, but I want to build up the fact that public works is equally a first responder.”

Why Public Works isn’t considered a first responder by many mostly relates to the fact that they handle more than emergencies.

The wide array of areas Public Works employees must hit puts them in a bind in emergency situations. The lack of employees the department is facing makes for trying times during emergencies.

On the operations level, public works employs just 20 full time and six seasonal. There are just six engineering employees and three full time protective inspections people.

Having a small staff has already created problems this year in the flood.

Public Works was in charge of many problems related to flooding. The small staff had to adjust on the fly to ensure the community would be safe.

“It was training under fire, we did training as we went,” Carr said. “We learned a lot of lessons because we didn’t really know what to do. There was a point in time that dispatch and the Emergency Operations Center was talking about going 24/7 and they needed someone from public works to be there also. That’s a lot of hours.”

Luckily, the EOC didn’t need a 24-hour Public Works employee, a big break for the department. But it brought to light a big issue facing Public Works.

No matter what the case is, when emergencies happen Public Works needs to be there.

“I think during the flooding it showed because Public Works would work insane hours trying to get the emergency work done but then have their everyday stuff,” City Engineer Chris Robinson said. “A sewer line break happens, they have to pull off other people to help with that while emergency is still going on.”

Though Public Works can be a juggling act, its importance in emergencies and the way we live everyday life cannot be stressed enough. And despite the lack of awareness, Public Works will keep working behind the scenes each day to keep life running smoothly for the citizens of Jenks.

“Our goal is, when people drive into this community, we want people to come across the city limits line and go, ‘wow, there’s something different here. What is it that’s different?’ they can see the infrastructure is well taken care of. It just looks good,” Carr said.

Hayden Tucker

Hayden Tucker is the Sports Editor and Director of Media for the Jenks Tribune. He has three years of experience in newspaper journalism before joining the Tribune. Tucker was born in McAlester, then moved to the Oklahoma City area in 2010 where he lived for nine years prior to moving to Jenks.

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