New York City officials face firing squad on November snowstorm response

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Top officials with Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration answered questions Thursday from New York City Council committees outraged over the response to this month's early storm.

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, and Education Department Chief Operating Officer Ursalina Ramirez came armed with facts and figures, but all City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wanted was an apology.

"I think that as you certainly are, we are equally as frustrated," Garcia said when asked if a public apology had been issued. "We do not want this to happen again."

"But what's wrong with apologizing?" Johnson asked. "Even if there were factors out of our control. What is the problem with saying I'm sorry?"

"I am certainly sorry that we did not message this, and we were not able to make it so that people understood the challenge they would face ahead," Garcia said, referring to the lack of information the city gave the public as snow fell during the afternoon commute, creating gridlock for drivers and snow plows alike.

"I just think there's nothing wrong with saying sorry," Johnson said.

"I am reluctant to phrase it in that direct way, because of the challenge of trying to apologize for a storm and for traffic," she said. "I am certainly sorry we did not message appropriately. We should be messaging to people that it is likely that trees could become dangerous in a heavy snowfall with leaves on them."

Johnson read tweets from people who didn't see any plows, and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez challenged Monahan over how many police officers were on the streets. Rodriguez noted traffic agents went home at 11 p.m., but Monahan said he was out with police officers personally pushing cars all night.

"It was as challenging a night for us, as it was for everyone else on the roads," he said. "But they were out there, in the cold, freezing out of their cars, pushing cars out of intersections. Cars were stuck in the snow. To clear an intersection, you had to get out, hands on, and push...I wasn't sitting warm in a house. I was sitting out there with the men and women doing the job."

Another major concern was school buses and the many special needs students who were stuck on them, some for 10 hours, in the snow. There was nowhere warm for children to go, Ramirez admitted.

"I do think the storm exacerbated our communication with the parents," she said. "We are moving rapidly to get GPS in all of our buses, and effective GPS, our goal is to get GPS in buses as soon as possible, certainly by the start of next school year."

The officials were uniform in observing that traffic was the biggest problem. Plows could not move snow because they could not move through the traffic.

"That was the biggest issue," Monahan said. "If you were out there, whatever you tried to do, until the highways cleared, there was nowhere for the cars to go."

Both Garcia and Monahan said GPS-based apps were directing drivers to closed roads and claiming roadways were open that were blocked. Garcia said more "out of the box thinking," like having plows and spreaders going the wrong way on highways, has already been identified as an area of improvement.

As for the storm response, Garcia said sanitation will start plow operations at beginning of November moving forward instead of mid-November and will jump start pre-treatment of roadways. They will also plan for higher levels of snow than had been forecast.

"In advance of storms like this one with high moisture content and an even small possibility of changeover to mostly or all snow, the department will plan for significantly higher accumulations than forecast to prepare for the worst case scenario," Garcia said.

DOT is also looking at computer programs that could provide early warnings

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