Snow Removal Preparedness Briefing from the Department of Transportation December 20, 2010
The T&E Committee has received a briefing from our Department of Transportation, the State Highway Administration and Pepco on their snow readiness. It is clear to me that much has been learned from the problems of last winter. My hope is for a much smoother delivery of services this winter.
The Committee got a preview of the completely new County snow mapping system that has now been launched. It is a GIS system with more Google-like features that has much more information and should be able to give real time updates on the progress of clearing streets. I have been assured that streets that were not in the system last winter have been identified and are in the new upgraded map. Plow routes have been reconfigured in order to provide a better response with the correct kind of equipment. Navigational systems will be in each truck so that drivers will be guided smoothly through neighborhoods without missing streets. This information will then be provided to the Central Command Center who will oversee operations and be able to communicate with other jurisdictions, with Pepco and with all of us. At the on set of a major storm, 1000 miles of main and emergency roads will be pre-treated with a salt brine mixture. All materials needed are in place, a Snow Summit was held to dry run the systems, and contractors have been briefed and tested.
Will all this result in a quicker response? I have not been promised that. But the County does believe that the new plans will optimize efficiencies and give people real information. You will, for instance, be able to read on the maps where streets have been plowed so if you need to get out, you can map out a successful route. Pepco's maps and the County's maps can now be integrated. I have been assured that areas with power outages can be prioritized for plowing so that people without electricity can leave their homes if necessary.
People have asked for accurate and real time information. I believe the new system can deliver that. As a general rule the County has indicated that compete clearing can take:
16 hours in a 3 inch storm 30 hours in a 10 inch storm 48 hours in a 15 inch storm 60 hours in a 24 inch storm
What we had last winter was back-to-back blizzards that did not allow the County to complete the work of one storm before dealing with the next onslaught. I have been assured that the chance of missing streets has been greatly reduced and the quality, quantity and timeliness of information has been greatly enhanced.
Your best protection is preparedness. Make sure you have food, water, medicines and emergency contingent plans. Pepco's website has great information on how to be better prepared. You can also stay connected by alerts to your email or cell phone through Alert Montgomery for emergency weather information and AlertMCPS for updates on school closures and delays.
Briefing on Snow Removal March 12, 2010
The full Council received a briefing on the snow emergency of February 2010 from an array of representatives from Montgomery County Department of Transportation, the Maryland State Highway Administration, Potomac Electric Power Company, Comcast, Verizon and RCN. Over 10 pages of questions had been prepared, almost half of which came from District 1 residents.
Clearly this was a storm of epic proportions and the County employees worked tirelessly to try and bring all of us through this and provide the services we have come to want and expect from our County government. Nonetheless, it was by no means a perfect performance -- we are human and this was a once in a lifetime storm -- and I think the report we received indicated that there were certainly lessons learned and changes that will be made. At one point 100,000 people were without power. The County was utilizing 1,000 pieces of equipment to try and move this huge volume of snow and to try and keep emergency and power company trucks moving and working in these blizzard conditions. The use of contract employees was necessary but, as you can imagine, this added complexity as well. And in our community, we needed to have the snow removed, not just plowed. That in and of itself made it harder, more costly, and resulted in taking longer to get our streets the way we want them.
I was very pleased to learn that the maps that caused so much confusion and concern may soon be replaced. The map that appeared on the County website was never intended to be used as a true reporting tool; it was an internal tool that was not ready for prime time and clearly its time has passed. The County is shopping for a new snow reporting map and will hopefully have one in place for the next winter season. Plus, the county acknowledged what some of you reported to us - you weren't on the map at all! There were some streets that just had never made it on the county's GIS system. That, thank goodness, has now been fixed too.
The coordination between Pepco and the County Emergency Management Center improved as the storm days wore on. I think this is where lessons learned will pay big dividends. In the future, I am confident that we will work hand in glove with PEPCO to make sure that their crews can get to where they need to go to restore power as soon as possible. In this storm, priority was given to power outages at critical needs facilities such as nursing homes and other care centers. At one point, the power was out at the Water Pumping Station and that became an immediate priority to insure safe and continuous drinking water. Trees limbs were a serious contributor to the power outages. While Pepco engages in tree trimming they are unable to trim on private property without permission, which is where most of the problems occurred. Pepco also reported that a number of phone numbers in their system for individual homes were incorrect so notifying individuals about power restoration was sometimes difficult. They did report that they have received $105 million to install their 'Smart Grid' technology. This will greatly enhance their ability to pinpoint outages as they occur and to minimize the impacts of these outages through their ability to reroute electricity on their grid.
I think we can all see that the snow and snow removal caused damage to landscaping, curbs and our streets. That too will take time to repair. If you wish to report damage to your private property from snow removal activities, please call 240-777-8920 in the Department of Finance, Risk Management Division. If you wish to report damage in the public right of way, please call 240-777-6000. The county picks up yard waste on a regular basis along with your regular trash pick up. For more information on this kind of collection, please click here.
Hopefully, we can learn these lessons and implement the necessary reforms over the next year.