(added 12:25 pm – here’s a link to the full “after-action report” discussed today)
(12/18/08 photo from Chris, taken on Delridge ramp to West Seattle Bridge)
Members of three Seattle City Council committees just got an hourlong update from three city department heads, and one of their own analysts, on more hindsight regarding the December ’08 snowstorm woes, and what’ll be done to improve city response next time. The highlights: Emergency Management director Barb Graff says the storm was overall a “$3.5 million hit” to the city budget (Councilmember Jan Drago said she wished there’d been a report on the private-sector “hit” too), though there’s hope that federal disaster-relief dollars could help cover some of that, if a presidential proclamation is made (word is expected within a week). SDOT director Grace Crunican says the city now has two more snowplows: 29 total, up from 27. The two additions cost $40,000 each.
(12/18/08 photo from Saney, taken at California/Hanford)
With that equipment, and with up to 13 more pieces of equipment available from private contractors – who are now on a retainer that will cost $30,000 (plus actual usage fees) the first year, $15,000 the second, and no additional fee after that – she says the city will be able to commit to keeping 744 “arterial lane-miles” of key streets clear no matter what, for buses and cars to use. (Using West Seattle – where she lives – as an example, Crunican said that would include California, Delridge, and 35th. No specific cross-streets, we will be looking into whether the specifics are in writing somewhere.) More highlights from the discussion, just ahead (we’ll be adding links in the next half-hour or so but wanted to get out the gist of what was said):
Crunican also repeated, later in the meeting, that additional equipment was not called in sooner during the December snow mess because city leaders had “too insular a view” of how things were going: Basically, they thought they were meeting their goals, major roads were passable if you had a 4WD (which Crunican says she does and says she was using to “drive around the city” – though she’d also said at earlier meetings that she was out of town around Christmas to visit family members in Portland), so they didn’t call for reinforcements sooner. “It was our fault that we waited till it was too late.”
(12/18/08 photo from The Junction by WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli)
She also mentioned operational changes – “field inspectors” will be used to “gauge road conditions”; snow-removal crews will move to 8-hour shifts after three days on 12 on/12 off “to reduce crew fatigue”; and SDOT will “educate the public about sidewalk clearing,” which is your responsibility if there’s one outside your home/business. There also was general discussion about making sure that public-information officers are properly deployed to provide and collect information (“neighborhood blogs” were mentioned more than once as potential sources of neighborhood-level information about storm conditions – and if you’ve been here since mid-December, you know how true that is for this neighborhood-news website). And she denied claims that the city wasn’t using every piece of snow-removal equipment at all times: “Simply not true.”
(12/18/08 photo of California, looking north from Thistle)
Acting Seattle Public Utilities director Ray Hoffman also provided a quick update on the solid-waste collection situation, which also caused no end of consternation during the snow woes. “We learned several things from this – our communications were weak, both with contractors out there collecting, and with customers. … We didn’t have a formalized incident-command system for solid waste collection, but we are moving to that now, along with a more rigorous review of our communications.” In the future, he said, they will “establish a more formal process for … disseminating public information,” and they’ll be more cautious about making promises – “we have to be more cautious about waiting to see what the weather actually does, before we tell customers what we are going to do.”
(December 22 photo from MargL in Arbor Heights)
So-called “reverse 911” to call customers with notifications was mentioned, along with – again – “increased use of neighborhood blogs” (WSB note: SPU spokespeople actually came out here to do an interview the snowbound evening of December 22, so they were ahead of the curve). He also said they now will be able to get crews out for collection on Sundays if they’re in a catch-up situation, as they were after the December storms, and he recapped the credit that we first reported here last week — 110,000 residential customers will get a $5 credit, about 6,000 business customers will get $10, for a total cost of $650,000. (“Followed by a surcharge to pay for it?” joked Councilmember Bruce Harrell, referring to the recent fire hydrant/water surcharge controversy – nervous laughter ensued.)
Overall, Graff says there are 60 recommendations, and the city’s “strategic work group will … keep this on the work plan until every single one of these is finished.” But most are just administrative changes and will not have direct costs, she added later, while also noting that the city’s budget director will speak to the council’s Budget Committee on Monday about costs incurred because of the storms.
About a dozen departments made reports to the mayor as well, Graff said in response to a question from City Council President Richard Conlin, who asked that those reports be provided to councilmembers before the day’s out. And then council “central staff” member Mike Fong provided his analysis of the reports that Graff, Crunican and Hoffman had just discussed, through the prism of council priorities: He compared them to the “after-action” reports following the December 2006 windstorm and, in a nutshell, said this report wasn’t quite as thorough. Conlin says everybody will gather again “in a month or so” to summarize all the reports and “in resolution form, lay out our expectations about followup.” He also wants to create some kind of “feedback loop” involving council members “so we can be more engaged during an emergency” – in previous storm discussions we’d covered, this came up, that councilmembers for example were getting lots of specific feedback from constituents, including reports on problems and concerns, but had no formal avenue of delivering it to city departments, whose bosses report to the mayor.
Conlin ended after this sharp note: “I’m going to make a fairly radical suggestion … If ‘reverse 911’ can’t be used in some form in a situation like this, it would be a real candidate for budget cuts.” Use it, or lose it. But then he sounded a conciliatory summary: “We can’t have a do-over of this storm, but we’ll be very prepared the next time it happens.”
ADDED 12:29 PM: This link is also at the top of this story – we e-mailed to ask for a copy of the “after-action report” and received it within minutes from Councilmember Drago. See it here.
ADDED 2:49 PM: We also sent a followup question to the council, after P, in comments, asked whether they’d want information from business owners to compile a report on private-sector losses because of the snow and its effects. Here’s the answer we received:
I do not believe as of this moment we are requesting information directly from business owners, but (Councilmember Drago) has asked department directors and our own analytical staff to look into the full financial losses that businesses experienced as a direct result of the snowstorm. If data collection will take place, I would presume it would be requested staff in city departments, and not directly by the Council, as they would best be able to analyze that information. She also mentioned that knowing those numbers can help us shape our future snowstorm (or other weather disaster) policies.
I would advise your readership to hang tight with that information for the present, but do know that business losses as a result of the storm are something we take very seriously.