Washington, D.C. – Regional leaders aren’t waiting for the next blizzard to come up with ways to improve the response to snowstorms and other emergencies. Exactly two months after the February 2010 blizzards began, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) held a forum for decision makers from the federal government, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to review lessons learned from this winter’s record setting snowfalls.
Participants identified equipment and supply sharing, improved communication to the public, better intergovernmental coordination, and increased commitment to teleworking as areas requiring more attention at the regional level. District of Columbia Councilmember At-Large and COG Chair Kwame Brown will brief the COG Board of Directors on the forum’s recommendations next week.
“We can’t stop the snow from falling, but we can do a better job once it hits the ground,” said Brown. “What residents want to know is that their streets are clear and that they can safely navigate the streets to get to work or the grocery store.”
John Berry, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, told attendees that the Obama administration wants 80-90% of eligible federal employees to be able to telework during emergencies. He estimated that between 30-35% of federal employees teleworked during the February snowstorms. During the last major snowstorm in the National Capital Region in 1996, only 1% of employees teleworked.
Officials said competition for contractors and equipment complicated the response to the snow, and they recommended working together to institute a regional system to prioritize sharing supplies. They also recommended using social networking sites as a way to reach out to area residents during emergencies.
About 100 participants—elected officials, city and county managers, area transportation and emergency management officials, and representatives from area utilities—said that region responded well given the severity of the storms, but that they are committed to work together to improve coordination on a number of issues such as clearing roads. Some attendees asked if COG and area governments could develop regional standards for clearing sidewalks and street parking during emergencies.
COG has a wide range of regional planning, policy and program responsibilities, including support for regional emergency planning, coordination and response. COG also sponsors and staffs a regional conference call for snow or other weather-related emergencies designed to aid local governments and others in making the best local decisions regarding closure or other government response operations.