01.11.2011 – City Officials Brace for Blizzard, the Sequel – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

City officials brace for blizzard, the sequel

Less than two weeks after a massive snow storm dumped 20 inches of powder on New York City and paralyzed most transportation, city officials are assuring residents that Tuesday night’s storm won’t be a repeat performance.

By Benjamin J. Spencer

Photo by Buck Ennis
The National Weather Service has forecast that Tuesday night’s winter storm may dump as much as 14 inches of fresh snow on the New York metro area by 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Published: January 11, 2011 – 3:48 pm
City transit officials said they were working hard to prevent stranded trains and buses in the metro area as another snow storm bears down on the East Coast, but they also counseled residents to be patient.“It will be a long night,” said Jay Walder, chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He noted that morning express train service will likely face disruptions because several rescue, de-icer, blower and scraper trains will be stationed on available underground tracks.

The National Weather Service has forecast that Tuesday night’s winter storm may dump as much as 14 inches of fresh snow on the New York metro area by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“It’s a tough storm because it’s coming in late,” said Helena Williams, president of the Long Island Rail Road.

The commissioners share one goal: avoiding stuck trains and suspending as few services as possible. But NYC Transit President Thomas Prendergast said a lot depends on the type of storm this front brings. Blowing or drifting snow and a heavy rate of accumulation on the third rail could affect trains’ ability to move along the electrified tracks and doom efforts to move stranded passengers with rescue trains, he said.

“In the 13-inch range, you may have to have suspensions,” he said.

Mr. Walder said that for this storm, the other agencies of MTA are setting up so-called “Incident Command Centers” where emergency storm efforts will be coordinated.

These command centers are put up specifically in the event of an extreme event or emergency, and will be “a focal point for every operating department” in the MTA, said spokesman Salvatore Arena.

The strategy is borrowed from a procedure LIRR has followed for about a year, Mr. Arena said. LIRR typically commandeers their agency president’s conference room for their center, but he doesn’t know exactly where the other agencies will set up theirs.

The MTA has also borrowed another LIRR program by installing a designated “customer advocate” in every agency’s Incident Command Center, said Mr. Prendergast.

“The advocate is not going to have direct communication with passengers on the train. They’re not miracle workers,” Mr. Arena said
Rather, the advocate’s job will be to coordinate efforts focused on stranded riders: providing supplies or food, attempting to reach passengers through outside workers, and making sure people are not attempting to exit the train into an unsafe situation.

“They didn’t have that in a formal way before,” Mr. Arena said.

For the Long Island Rail Road, Ms. Williams said diesel engines will be standing by to assist stuck trains, and the rail road will also station 50 workers at the busy Jamaica, Queens, interchange. Overall, 600 LIRR employees are slated to work through the storm. “We’ve had a great response from employees for this one,” Ms. Williams said.

Also on Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city would inform parents of school closures by 5 a.m. Wednesday through the 311 hotline and on city websites. He cautioned of a difficult commute on Wednesday and told residents, “Do not drive if you can help it.”

In the wake of the post-Christmas blizzard that dumped upward of 20 inches on the city and paralyzed most transportation, Mr. Bloomberg on Monday laid out a 15-point plan for handling future snowstorms. The plan included several new measures designed to prevent many of the communication and emergency system problems that hampered efforts during the last storm. Mr. Bloomberg dismissed any notion that the city may have resisted buying necessary equipment because of budget cuts.

He also countered charges of a lack of empathy and availability during the storm. “When things go wrong, you can never have enough empathy,” he said. “We didn’t do as good a job as we should have.”

In response to complaints about his being on vacation, he responded: “The mayor is in charge, and the mayor is in charge all the time,” he said. “I am not in every conference call, and I shouldn’t be.”

When pressed to detail what he himself could have done differently to deal with the last storm, Mr. Bloomberg brushed off the question. “Should have, would have and could have, I don’t know,” he said. “Next question.”

The expected snowstorm forced the postponement of the City Council’s oversight hearing on Walmart scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. It was rescheduled for Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. Opponents of Walmart’s entry into the city have also called off a rally they had scheduled for Wednesday.


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"The crew of the 'Rose Noelle" sits at Constable Godinet's dining table, enjoying a breakfast of whiskey and ice cream." Name's Beej. I'm a writer, filmmaker, amateur guitarist and drummer, and sometime photographer based in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

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