- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray pledged to make “swift, well-informed decisions” when snowstorms hit the District this winter, leveraging new trucks, early notification systems and asking city employees to “shelter in place” to avoid the traffic nightmares that followed a massive storm in January.

City officials said no significant snowfall is expected to hit the region before the holidays, although large dump trucks lined Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday as a symbolic backdrop for a news conference on winter preparations.

Mr. Gray said prior storms, particularly the Jan. 26 event that stagnated traffic throughout the city, forced officials to re-evaluate their strategy in cooperation with the federal government and surrounding counties.

“It quickly became clear that our plans were inadequate when faced with these types of rapidly developing storms and weather patterns,” Mr. Gray said. “Agencies citywide and throughout the region worked to identify these failings and address these failings.”

The city paid about $4.5 million for 45 new dump trucks that plow and treat roads - 15 have arrived and are ready for use - and put contracts in place for front-loaders and construction-grade equipment to clear sidewalks, officials said.

Mr. Gray said the District will decide whether to close its government offices no later than 4:30 a.m. - they may open with liberal leave, open on a delay or be closed - and will try to decide whether to close schools the next day by 11 p.m. so the decision can be reported on television news broadcasts.

The District will employ the “shelter-in-place” model used by the federal government, in which city employees are expected to stay at their offices until emergency crews say it is safe to leave.

Mr. Gray said they cannot force anyone to stay in place, but they will educate employees on the merits of the policy.

The city government also expanded its telework capabilities so city employees can access additional computer systems from home, Shawn Stokes, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, said.

A new website, snow.dc.gov, will provide tips on winter preparation and updates on snow removal during a storm, Mr. Gray said.

Officials said the city’s Department of Public Works will lead the city’s response to snowstorms in conjunction with the D.C. Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Police Department.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said Mr. Gray’s announcement shows he is taking the issue “very seriously.”

While the emphasis is on public safety, the success or failure of snow removal in the city has political implications “whether we like it or not,” according to Mr. Wells.

“The thing about a snow event is it’s kind of a slow-rolling event,” he said, “so the mayor is out there quite a bit in being our leader and also our snow-remover-in-chief.”

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