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From the Roundtable: More advance planning could reduce some snow-related problems

From the Roundtable: More advance planning could reduce some snow-related problems

Al Germond

There have been bigger snowstorms, of course. Two weeks ago, the heavens really opened up, leaving a legacy of depth that has some of us questioning how well various government entities rose to the occasion. Maybe you’ve already graded each agency’s performance at clearing the streets.

Afterward, it was fairly common water-cooler chat to hear someone award a B-minus grade to the city of Columbia for its efforts, a C to Boone County and a D-plus to the Missouri Department of Transportation. Others had their own grades, depending on where they lived, where they traveled, roads they drove and, for good measure, their state of mind.

There was plenty of warning for this storm. Forecast accuracy from the National Weather Service has been improving and the history of this gathering tempest was much like all the other big snow events. Storm systems develop hundreds of miles southwest of here and take aim often following a narrow trajectory that complicates predicting how much snow will accumulate and where. Columbia has been largely spared since the last whopper almost a dozen years ago. Meanwhile, aim has been taken on other areas of the state in an almost diabolical plot to smother Springfield one year or St. Louis the next.

In one sense I write this paean in defense of the efforts undertaken on all government levels in dealing with this blizzard. Crews were on the job with the equipment we provided them, yet the system broke down. I know many of you are still very angry about this, but stop and consider the fact that snow was falling at rates of two to three inches per hour with plenty of blowing, drifting and whiteout conditions. I think we should cut a little slack here to the crews who were trying to make headway while the heavenly artillery was so massed in our midst that early Friday morning.

On the other hand — and I’m talking about the city here — there’s less sympathy for the fact that the census of machines with snow-clearing capabilities hasn’t kept pace with the increase in road mileage. No one was startled by the massed complaints from subdivisions both old and new that crews were either tardy getting there or not there at all to push the snow aside. Perhaps we should be more introspective. When choosing a place to live, it’s hard imagining both the setting and the logistics of getting around after a blizzard while you’re sauntering through the house in June when it’s 70 degrees outside under a deep blue sky.

Events like this, plus public outcry, will wake governments up, often bringing on new committees, commissions and task forces. Some may even suggest tossing the log of snow removal issues on the visioning bonfire to see what happens. Several things come to mind.

• Educate the public about snow removal priorities through wider dissemination of maps and other data. Expand deployment of various Web sites to relay this information. If warranted, officials have the power to designate a formal “snow emergency” altering their activities to deal with a blizzard or other weather emergency.

• Designate and mark principal “snow emergency routes” and prohibit parking on them starting 12 to 24 hours before the snow is expected to reach the area. Proposals to do this have been defeated in the past; other cities have designated these routes for “defense evacuation” purposes.

• Purchase and install on all snow removal equipment GPS/satellite tracking devices to show the location of each vehicle on a map in a central command facility.

• Continue and amplify coordination of snow removal activity among all relevant agencies. Rather than wait for the Department of Transportation to plow Providence Road, let city trucks go to work on that artery. The former “Inner Loop” was still a mess 36 hours after the snow had stopped falling.

• Finally, if a “snow emergency” is declared, designate a special telephone number and e-mail address at the Joint Communications Center to handle calls related to the blizzard or other special weather event.
The recent blizzard was a learning experience. Let’s see what comes out of it.

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