(Long Island, NY) The National Weather Service in Upton issued a Winter Storm Watch for the night of Tuesday, January 11th into Wednesday afternoon. At least ten to fifteen inches are expected to hit southeastern New York, leaving Long Islanders with less than a quarter-of-a-mile visibility. This will be the second blizzard to hit Long Island in less than a month; the first had an eye of a storm equivalent to a Category Two Hurricane. The dent left two weeks ago from the twenty-inch snowfall has Long Islanders questioning their level of preparedness.
What is now known as the “Post-Christmas Blizzard” struck Long Island & NYC in the wee hours of Dec. 26, 2010, and had one of the worst responses to a storm since Feb. 9, 1969. In NYC, the extreme impact of the storm and unsatisfactory action taken by officials has led to a series of hearings that target the inadequacies in emergency response. The first of these hearings, held 11 a.m. on Jan.10th, raised the case of a twenty-two year old college senior who gave birth to a dead infant, waiting nine hours for medical attention after calling 911.
The woman, out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, attempted to walk to a hospital during the blizzard. Expired and unable to continue, she sought haven in the lobby of a building where she delivered an unconscious infant. Fire Commissioner, Salvatore Cassano, declined to discuss specifics when asked about the ongoing case. Cassano is one of several commissioners appointed by Mayor Bloomberg. Cassano admitted to City Council members at the Jan.10th hearing that the woman’s original plea to 911 workers had a “level five” (out of eight) priority. It was changed to a level one, high priority, only after a call came stating that the infant was unresponsive. Cassano explained that when given more information about a case, the priority level raises immediately.
The newborn wasn’t the only casualty from the blizzard. At least two other deaths were reported in NYC, as ambulances couldn’t reach destinations on unplowed streets. A fire was reported in Elmhurst, where the hospital’s emergency entrances are located on “secondary streets.” These streets are given less priority in plowing than primary streets and roadways. In other parts of the city, one resident had to wait 24 hours before workers came to remove the body of a deceased parent.
The direct reason for such a catastrophic lapse in emergency response can be blamed on the backlogging of 911 calls. More than 250,000 calls were received in the city at “high storm” hours. Over 1300 calls were backlogged, making Dec. 26th the busiest day since the 9/11 Terrorist Attack. Most reports said that the 311 calls were unsatisfactory in serving people updated information about the progress made against the blizzard. The road conditions made it impossible for 911 workers to be relieved during high volume call times. None of the plowing was accomplished in a timely fashion, according to residents and City Council Members. The roads must first be cleared of vehicles before plowing begins, and before salt can be distributed to prevent the further accumulation of snow.
Subsequent losses came in the form of power shortages around the island. The Long Island Power Authority estimated that 8, 412 Nassau County homes and 6,212 homes in Suffolk lost power during “the Post-Christmas Blizzard.” The highest of these losses occurred in Hempstead where over 1,000 residences were affected. During this time, an estimated 6,000 pounds of salt was distributed in Suffolk County alone.
Those questioned at the hearing, including the Deputy Mayor, Stephen Goldsmith, agreed that steps will be taken to learn from these mistakes. The current system of emergency response is considerably outdated, having been standardized in 1995. A new system of efficiency is said to be installed by the fall of 2011. Nonetheless, the real question facing Long Islanders now is how much of the inefficiency stemmed from the barriers of red tape and the lag of a holiday weekend, and how much of these issues are still going to affect us during tonight’s expected blizzard.