Snow response criticized in New York City

December 31, 2010 3:12:36 PM PST
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the number of cars and buses stuck in the streets were a major stumbling block for officials trying to clean up after last weekend's snowstorm.

The city is investigating its slow response to the post-Christmas storm that dumped 20 inches on the city and stranded thousands of people on stuck subways and at their homes on unplowed blocks. Hundreds of abandoned buses and cars got stuck in streets that couldn't be plowed.

Sanitation Commission John Doherty said Friday on WOR radio that the city needs to look at getting private tow truck drivers and other private equipment into action sooner.

He expects warmer weather will melt some of the leftover snow Friday. The city may collect garbage Monday for the first time since the storm.

The City Council is calling for an investigation into why so many neighborhoods were still buried in snow, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent a letter to Bloomberg demanding to know what happened.

Text of Bill de Blasio's letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

Dear Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

I am writing to express concern and seek answers about the City's response to this past Sunday's snow storm. My office has become aware of concerns voiced by New Yorkers who are unable to leave their homes or immediate vicinity as a result of unplowed roads and public walkways. It has become evident that the outer boroughs have been disproportionately affected by the lack of plowing after Sunday's snow storm.

The storm on Sunday was severe and although the City is working feverishly now to clear the streets, I believe that the City could have taken a more precautionary approach. I am concerned that the City did not take the necessary steps to help minimize the disruptions to transportation, sanitation, and emergency services. Additionally, I think the City should have made more decisive steps to keep drivers off the roadways and prevent so many abandoned vehicles from obstructing the City's snowplows. With more winter storms ahead, it is imperative that we learn from our experiences to better prepare ourselves for future storms and natural disasters.

To better understand how the City handled this Sunday's severe storm, I request the following data from the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Sanitation, and call information from 311 and 911. This data will be a key tool in evaluating what steps need to be taken in the future during severe storms.

Office of Emergency Management

The Office of Emergency Management is responsible for helping New York City plan and prepares for emergencies, as well as coordinates for a timely response and recovery. I have several questions regarding the Office's preparation for Sunday's storm.

  • It is my understanding that the Office decided against declaring Sunday's storm a Snow Emergency, which would have moved cars from the arterial roadways essential to moving emergency vehicles. Please explain the rationale behind this decision.
  • What is the protocol for declaring a Snow Emergency? What factors are considered? Who declares a Snow Emergency and how is this declaration reviewed?
  • Besides implementing a Snow Emergency plan, what other tools are at the City's disposal to quickly remove cars off the street so that they do not block emergency services or snow plows?
  • What alerts did the Office have in place for motorists prior to Sunday's storm that would have informed them about the storm and alternate parking options?
  • Based on news reports, snow banks caused serious obstacles for emergency services vehicles trying to access individuals in need of medical attention. What measures were taken to pair sanitation workers who were operating plows with emergency service vehicles?

    Department of Sanitation

    I have several questions about the process the Department of Sanitation undertook to ensure that streets were being plowed in a timely fashion.

  • Understanding that the Department is experiencing a hiring freeze, please provide details about the Department's current staffing levels as they relate to snow clearance. What positions at the Department are responsible for clearing the streets during snow storms? If these staffing levels are divided by borough, please provide my office with the information by borough.
  • Please provide a description of how the Department responded to specific requests for assistance from 311 and my office between Sunday, December 26th and Tuesday, December 28th. On what timeframe were those forwarded complaints addressed? Through what process were those complaints incorporated into the Department's snow clearance activities?
  • Please provide my office with detailed timelines regarding the plowing of primary, secondary and tertiary streets for each borough following the storm.
  • Please provide my office with a detailed budget that shows how snow removal resources are allocated by borough.
  • Based on a Wall Street Journal article, Jason Post, a spokesperson for the Mayor stated that administrative workers were being employed for field work. How were these individuals trained and prepared for snow clearance?


    My office has received hundreds of calls from constituents regarding the snow storm and many of them are being placed on hold for long periods of time when they contact 311. To that end, I have several questions about the handling of calls regarding the storm.

  • Please provide my office with a detailed call summary related to the storm from Sunday, December 26, 2010 until Sunday, January 2, 2010.
  • What was the average wait time for calls during the snow storm and what is the wait time normally?
  • Please provide my office with details on how 311 queued snow storm calls and made referrals to other agencies.
  • Did 311 issue complaint numbers to each individual caller?
  • Please provide information about 311's backlog of calls regarding the storm.


    From my understanding there is a review taking place regarding the processing of 911 calls. Please provide my office with the scope of this review and the methodology being used.

    Thank you and I look forward to your timely response. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


    Bill de Blasio