2011-01-14 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Blizzard Of 2010 And Lessons Learned
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Happy New Year to all! As I sit writing the first column for 2011, it is Tuesday night and the first heavy snowfall to hit the city this year has begun. Our Mayor and those who work for him will undergo their first test since the blizzard that paralyzed the city last month.

By now everyone knows the story of the incompetence that reared its ugly head during the December 26 storm. Incompetence that left streets on the east end of Rockaway, such as Beach 14 and Beach 16 Streets, unplowed for days; incompetence that did not call for a snow emergency despite the weather predictions; and incompetence that left a city not knowing who was in charge.

It was the day after Christmas with Mayor Bloomberg and his Deputy Mayor for Operations, Stephen Goldsmith (who oversees snow removal) both out of town. We know from Monday’s City Council hearing that neither man was involved in discussions to decide if a snow emergency should be called. According to the Daily News, half of the city’s snow plows did not have radios to communicate problems, including if they themselves got stuck; agencies with the resources to help clear the snow were never entirely “activated”; private companies were never contacted to help in the cleaning until the blizzard was in full force, plus they were (according to the Daily News) “asked to sign unwieldy contracts” and citizens who wanted to volunteer were told they would not be paid for six to 12 weeks – a situation that discouraged many from taking the snow removal jobs. Councilman James Sanders Jr., who represents the east end of Rockaway and lives in Bayswater, was – according to the Queens Chronicle – snowbound for a day and a half. “Not since the days of former New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay’s administration has the City’s snow removal efforts been so woefully led and poorly executed,” said Sanders. “In this day of modern marvels, when we knew ahead of time that a major storm was approaching, how can it be that our 21st century City has ground to an 18th century halt? That a horse and wagon would have done better for you than any modern vehicle? Were I still in the Marine Corps, courts-martial would be the order of the day.”

Heads have begun to roll. John Perrugia is now the former chief of the Emergency Medical Services. The reason – that 170 ambulances became stuck in the snow and there was a 1,400 call backlog at 911. Perrugia may be a sacrificial lamb, as there are others whose actions need to be looked at. Bloomberg, according to WCBS-Channel 2 news, has said that the job of John Doherty, the commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, is safe. Even though it was his department’s responsibility to clean those streets so that ambulances and other emergency vehicles could get through. Bloomberg was rumored to be angry with Joe Bruno, the commissioner for the Office of Emergency Management. Reportedly, Bruno told The Daily News that the emergency command center was not fully activated until approximately 4:30 p.m. on December 26. The snow began falling between 10:30 a.m. and noon.

As for Goldsmith, the day of the storm he tweeted “GOOD SNOW WORK” to Sanitation Department workers. While those workers have been accused of a slowdown during the storm, it is not clear if there was one. What is clear, is that the department – which has undergone changes by Goldsmith – did not have the manpower it needed to tackle the blizzard. Although, it did in the 70 other snowstorms the mayor said have occurred under his watch. As for the deputy mayor, his history precedes him. In January 1994, as mayor of Indianapolis, he failed to declare a snow emergency as a storm was about to hit that city.

Imagine having to wait until lives are lost and a city is brought to a halt to decide to put snow chains on ambulances (the FDNY removed them some time back because they broke and damaged vehicles), put radios in all sanitation trucks (what a novel idea in this day and age), and make sure that the 911 system and its dispatchers are up to the tasks that come when such a storm hits.

Bloomberg has already said that he wants to be remembered as the best mayor the city ever had.

First he should take a closer look at all those responsible for how the blizzard that hit our city last month was handled.

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