Thursday, February 10, 2011

Learning from the Mistakes of the 2010 Blizzard

By David J. Harvey

Weather forecasts predict clear skies, snow has been largely removed from streets and trash collection has resumed, but the cleanup is far from over across the city.

Snow took a heavy toll on the city’s finances. The December storm alone cost the city more than $38 million.

On Monday, February 7, alternate side parking enforcement resumed, and the city issued 9,910 tickets—twice the daily average—expected to collect at least $500,000 in fines.

Additionally, the City Council is planning to introduce a package of snow related legislation. The new bills will include regulations that require the city to authorize a snow emergency when forecasters predict a blizzard, to open the emergency operations center before the first snowfall and to designate a “cleanup” official for each borough.

The City Council legislation would also require the city to publish a list that ranks streets as primary, secondary or tertiary, the designations that determine plowing priority.

But recouping expenses and legislating weather responses aren’t the only post-snow priorities.

Another of the bills would require increased use of 311 during storms. The Sanitation Department, which faced the brunt of complaints during the unprecedented snowfall, is looking to do more than return to business as normal.

According to the Division of Customer Service and Government Relations office, Sanitation is working to improve two-way communication through 311.

Director of Customer Relations Henry Ehrhardt said, “There is no middle man, 311 puts it right in our system and it goes right to the Sanitation garage to be taken care of.”

The city is also eager for residents to receive training on how to use the system. In a conversation with Ed Wendell, of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, about his effort to organize Block Captains throughout his neighborhood, Ehrhardt discussed feedback from the department to residents. The Block Captains were organized to pass information—such as lists of unplowed streets—up the chain of command to City Council representatives and their community board, both of which recommend residents call 311.

“When you give information to several different places it can be hard to track, and you’re duplicating efforts, sometimes it’s hard to get back to the source,” said Ehrhardt.

He added that he and Wendell had discussed using the Block Captain network to help train residents on how to report and find information more efficiently.

“We have been regularly posting information on our website on the status of snow removal and trash collection, there’s more information available,” he said. “The ultimate answer is to let the folks know the most effective way and how they can track the individual service requests that they make.”

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