At the May 26, 2009, Full Council, I opposed legislation that would allow the Seattle Transportation Department (SDOT) to spend between $100,000 – $200,000 to hire a consultant to look into the December snow storm response and our City’s overall emergency preparedness in SDOT. I believed the one-time outside consultant cost of $200,000 should not be necessary because this scope of work should be part of the core function and business at SDOT. The Seattle Times reported SDOT paid a consultant over $515,000 to investigate workplace issues dealing with its employees, many of whom do snow response work. That consultant interviewed over 114 people. How does that improve service to you?
I want SDOT to have the internal expertise and develop the algebra behind a smart plan. Even though these severe winter storms only hit Seattle once in a decade, I have been blunt in saying, “This is not brain surgery.” Regardless of the limited experience to snow storm responses in this region, staff at SDOT and Emergency Management Operations should be working with other jurisdictions on an annual basis to study residential plowing policies, use of salt, use of carbide blades, communication and coordination plans, and other procedural and operational functions during a snow storm response at no additional cost to the City. As I stated repeatedly during committee discussions and council briefings, this type of work should already be part of each Councilmember’s committee and department work plan. As chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, I worked closely with Seattle City Light and the Department of Information Technology to review emergency management policies this past year. I have suggested to my colleagues that as they oversee their respective committees, they should include emergency management reviews that are appropriate to the departments they oversee and include it as an annual item on their work program.
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On February 20, 2009, Council held another briefing regarding the December 2008 Winter Storm response. The briefing was the last of 4 scheduled briefings as a result of the “illegal procedural penalty” by the City (excuse my football reference). The “After Action Report” and “Corrective Action Plan” was presented and discussed by Council. Each department with a role in the snow storm submitted a “Corrective Action Plan.” Implementation of all the new policies in the action plan will be completed by September 2009. The action plan included 68 areas for improvement covering 12 agencies and departments.
As mentioned in an earlier blog posting, there was an overarching problem of determining the severity and duration of the storm and the lack of measures in place for different snow advisory conditions (from low to severe). More specifically, I saw two major problems in the City’s and County’s snow response: 1) snow plowing and 2) lack of communication among agencies. There should be a common sense approach in identifying the different response plan if 12 inches of snow falls over a 14 day period compared to the average 2 inch accumulation. The City cannot use the fact that this was the most severe snow storm in the last 20 years as an excuse or claim we now have 20-20 hindsight. The Executive and Council’s main function is to be preemptive and review all possible scenarios.
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A few weeks ago, our city experienced one of the biggest snowstorms in over a decade, replete with the usual post-storm analysis. The public’s perception of how the City handled the storm can best be described as “frustration on steroids.” As the Mayor graded the City’s response as a “B” and we questioned the vacation schedules of department heads, I kept reminding myself that we, as a City Council, are the policy leaders and community leaders. As such, the issues of “salt” vs. “GEOMELT” or whether the City is in a position to demand better bus service from the County under snow conditions….are issues that we could own. It could have been determined last year that our use of salt, which could end up in our creeks and Puget Sound, was not considered the major detriment to salmon. I have never blamed a teammate for a team loss and won’t start doing that now. Yes, there is plenty of room to blast the Mayor, the County and even the City Council, but that won’t clear the 1,531 lanes of primary and secondary arterials under a pre-determined plan for snow and ice routes. It is cathartic to state that we could have done a better job. As a City Council, our focus should be “What can we do better!”
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