NEW YORK (AP)—Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration said Monday that its decision not to call a snow emergency during the post-Christmas blizzard might not have been the right call, and that the poor cleanup was exacerbated by a lack of ways to communicate with plow drivers on the streets.
The City Council held a hearing to examine the city's cleanup efforts for the Dec. 26 storm, which dumped more than 2 feet of snow in parts of the city.
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Stephen Goldsmith, whose job as deputy mayor of operations is to oversee snowstorm response, apologized to the city and the council for the many failures.
Goldsmith outlined weaknesses that the city has identified for improvement. One was the decision not to call a snow emergency, which keeps private vehicles without snow tires or chains off designated snow routes and bans parking along those routes. The city last declared a snow emergency in 2005.
The city did not declare an emergency during the storm, Goldsmith said, because of the belief that it would cause more traffic problems at the end of the holiday weekend.
But the administration now believes an emergency declaration might have kept more drivers off the road and triggered a more urgent response among city agencies and other authorities that use the declarations for guidance.
"Given the information available at the time, the decision not to declare an emergency was understandable," Goldsmith said. "However, based on what we know now, an emergency declaration could have yielded a more successful response."
Goldsmith also said the city lacks decent methods to communicate with plow drivers in the field. That leads to the emergency command centers not having a good understanding of which streets are plowed and which ones are blocked by obstacles.
The hearing was expected to go on all day.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the storm "brought
New York City to its knees."
"We're here today to determine what went wrong," she said.
Bloomberg's commissioners outlined several improvements the city is planning or has begun. Those include creating formal protocol for considering snow emergencies and testing out a new type of snow chains for ambulances.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said the city stopped using chains on ambulances 15 years ago, because many vehicles in the fleet were damaged repeatedly when chains broke off. More than 100 ambulances became stuck in the snow during the holiday storm, and many New Yorkers who needed urgent medical care did not get it right away.
The sanitation department is also equipping every truck with global positioning devices, which have two-way communications that plow workers can use to better report to emergency commanders the status of roads.
The city also said it is streamlining the process for deploying equipment like tow trucks, as well as improving its abilities to quickly hire private contractors for towing, plowing and hauling.
Further, officials said the city will create an online portal with winter weather information, a site where New Yorkers will be able to post photos and video, increasing the real-time information available to commanders about the cleanup.