S.I. Residents Voice Anger, Frustration at Blizzard Hearing

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Representatives from several New York City agencies again apologized Tuesday night for the slow and uneven response to dealing with a blizzard that slammed the city last month, knocking out mass transit and leaving scores of roads unplowed for days.

Representatives from City Hall and the Department of Sanitation attended the hearing on Staten Island -- but they refused to take questions from the audience, composed of citizens who suffered for days as roads remained blocked by snow and cars remained trapped.

It was "shameless" said a Park Hill resident and pastor of popular church.  He said many members of his congregation missed services because people were trapped in their homes.

Opening the hearing, Councilwoman Deborah Rose strongly criticized the representatives for not taking questions. 

She said more answers were needed about the dismal response to the storm.  "The blizzard was an act of nature but the catastrophe was man made."  A resident named Mark later said that the snow storm wasn't "a catastrophe...an inconvenience...and something that must be done better."  He added that the leftover garbage that remained on streets for days was his biggest complaint.

Resident Robert Cox said: "so many errors, so many errors.  You lay off 100 supervisors, but then you want people to supervise." 

During a first hearing on the blizzard response this month, city officials admitted that they should have called some type of emergency while fighting the day-after-Christmas blizzard.

“We owe you and all New Yorkers for that lack of performance our administration’s apology and my personal promise not to let it happen again,” said Deputy Mayor of Operations Stephen Goldsmith, who oversees snow operations.

Goldsmith and key commissioners outlined a series of Administration errors like having poor communications with plow trucks, failing to hire enough private snow removers and waiting too long to marshal emergency resources.  They also detailed reforms designed never to repeat their admittedly "unacceptable" response to the Christmas weekend storm that socked the city with more than 20 inches of snow, burying streets in the outer boroughs for days.

“Union officials for Sanitation workers and first responders also blasted the city for failing to declare a snow emergency which would have kept drivers off the roads, saying that doomed the fight from the start, as stuck vehicles made plowing impossible on many streets.

Schedule of upcoming hearings

Patrick Bahnken, head of the EMTS and paramedics union, mocked the indecision of city officials in reading the storm, saying it  "did not sneak up on us' since even the National Football League knew to postpone the Eagles game when the system hit Philadelphia.  

Goldsmith outlined several snow reforms, including: establishing a formal protocol for assessing snow emergencies, finding a new type of snow chain for ambulances, equipping all Sanitation trucks with global positioning devices and two-way radios, speeding the hiring of Private contractors and creating a new weather feature on the city's website to receive citizen complaints and display real time photos and video of storms.

The 15-point Action Plan to address these problems will:

  • Improve the process for declaring emergencies;
  • Provide a broader range of options that could be part of an emergency declaration and make them clear and understandable to New Yorkers;
  • Equip every Department of Sanitation truck with a GPS device enabled with two-way communication;
  • Improve accountability tools and plowing definitions used by Sanitation for street conditions;
  • Use live monitors (SCOUT) to stream video of trouble spots;
  • Enhance immediate availability of critical equipment;
  • Enhance ability to deploy City employees from other departments;
  • Enhance the Emergency Operations Center as the center of resource coordination;
  • Improve tow truck deployment;
  • Secure and expeditiously deploy private contractors for assistance;
  • Improve the process of hiring additional laborers;
  • Improve two-way communications through real time portal;
  • Provide better methods for citizens to request help;
  • Reform dispatch protocols in extreme and high volume events;
  • Accelerate PSAC integration and implementation.
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