Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 30, 2010

Blizzard’s blast bites Bloomberg

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on December 30, 2010

The Boxing Day Blizzard hit the Northeast hard.  The New York City region received two to three feet of snow with high winds.  Two days later the New York Times headline reads: City Limps as Storm Impact Chastens Mayor; Many Streets Remain Unplowed.  This and other media reports are full of emergency response delays and their tragic consequences. 

From a distance the biggest recovery problem appears to be the number of vehicles — including city buses — that were left snowbound in the middle of many streets.  Wednesday Mayor Bloomberg “took responsibility” and indicated he was “extremely dissatisfied” by the city’s response.  According to the Times Mr. Bloomberg also suggested some other responsible parties:

The mayor also spread some of the blame for the city’s problems on to its citizens, who he said had failed to heed requests that they not call for help unless they faced true emergencies. Those calls, the mayor said, “overwhelmed” the emergency communications system, a failure that he said he had assigned an official to investigate. City residents also compounded the problem by trying to drive in the storm, only to have their cars stuck in the path of plows. (Bloomberg Takes Blame)

Does the 911 system habituate dependence and discourage citizen preparedness? This was a recurring theme at a recent UASI conference. 

On Thursday morning December 30 the Times is leading with Inaction and Delays by New York as Storm Bore Down.   The reporting implies officials underestimated the risk and did not take action that could have mitigated the impact. 


No one remains who personally recalls the Great White Hurricane of 1888.   Twenty-two inches of snow fell in Central Park.  Winds were 40 miles per hour.  In other parts of the city unofficial totals of three to five feet of snow were reported.  Two-hundred New Yorker’s died.  Some claim this calamity pushed New York to build the subway rather than depend on the more vulnerable elevated trains.  Are there similar strategic lessons to be learned today or will we focus entirely on tactical and operational issues?

Following are excerpts of the New York Times report on the March 13 1888 storm (thanks to nycsubway.org)


The worst storm the city has ever known
Business travel completely suspended

New York helpless in a tornado of wind and snow which paralyzed all industry, isolated the city from the rest of the country, caused many accidents and great discomfort, and exposed it to many dangers.

The storm of wind and rain, which began to sweep over this city and the neighborhood on Sunday evening, gathered force as the night progressed. The temperature began to fall albeit and snow descended in succession and the wind be- came boisterous. Before daylight dawned yesterday a remarkable storm, the most annoying and detrimental in its results that the city has ever witnessed, was in full progress.

When the people began to stir to go about their daily tasks and vocations, they found that a blizzard, just like those they have been accustomed to read about as occurring in the far West had struck this city and its environs and had held an embargo on the travel and traffic of the greatest city on the continent. What the presence of a blizzard meant was soon manifest.

Before the day had well advanced, every horse-car and elevated railroad train in the city had stopped running; the streets were almost impassable to men or horses by reason of the huge masses of drifting snow; the electric wires- telegraph and telephone — connecting spots in the city or opening communication with places outside were nearly all broken; hardly a train was out from the city or came into it during the entire day; the mails were stopped, and every variety of business dependent on motion or locomotion was stopped.

Thus the city, to a great extent, was at a standstill yesterday, and the prospects are not much better for to-day. People vexed at the collapse of all the principal means of intercommunication and transportation became reflective, and the result was a general expression of opinion that an immediate and radical improvement was imperative. So the blizzard may accomplish what months, if not years, of argument might have failed to do.

Probably it had not been for the blizzard the people of the city might have ignored one for an indefinite time enduring the nuisance of electric wires dangling from poles, of slow trains running on the trestlework, and slower cars drawn by horses in the streets dangerous with their center tearing rails. Now two things tolerably certain that a system of a really rapid transit which cannot be made inoperable by storms must be straightaway devised and as speedily as possible constructed and that all the electric wires — telegraph, telephone, fire alarms, and illuminating — must be put underground without any delay.

The elevated roads and the elevated electric wires are not only made useless by a severe storm, but they are made dangerous. The city is liable to be put into darkness and the consequent perils. There is also that danger of conflagration through the failure of the fire alarm wires.

In looking back at the events of yesterday the most amazing thing to the residents of this great city must be the ease with which the elements were able to overcome the boasted triumph of civilization, particularly in those respects which philosophers and statesmen have contended permanently marked our civilization and distinguished it from the civilization of the old world — our superior means of intercommunication. Before the fury of the great blizzard they all went down, whether propelled by steam or electricity. The elevated trains became useless; so did the telegraph wires, the telephone wires, the wires for conveying the electric lights, the wires for giving the alarms of fire. And, worse than useless, they became dangerous…

It is hard to believe in this last quarter of the nineteenth century that for even one day New-York could be so completely isolated from the rest of the world as if Manhattan Island was in the middle of the South Sea.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

December 30, 2010 @ 3:00 am

Beautifully done and timely. And yes we will all be living underground at some future point as the Sci-Fi and Climatologists visions come true.

And of course it is still months from springtime.

Well Happy New Years!

Thanks Phil for all the great posts this year.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

December 30, 2010 @ 10:09 am

Greetings Phil and Bill;

Although I have not posted for a period of time, I find today’s posting and point of view poignant for this reason; No amount of planning can overcome sabotage. If this is true; That NY Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers(conspired) to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts (deny service) — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles (http://tinyurl.com/262hlr4), than prison would be too good a measure of justice.

Astounding as it seems, this kind of action is more akin to organized crime than organized labor. So the conceptual death spiral will continue as the allure of entitlements, power, and activities such as these embolden “leaders” to jeopardize people’s lives, impact businesses, and hamper any hopes of righting all the economic and homeland security challenges that lie ahead.

NY public employees are prohibited by law to strike(The Public Employees Fair Employment Act , more commonly known as the Taylor Law, refers to Article 14 of the New York State Civil Service Law, which defines the rights and limitations of unions for public employees in New York) “Blue Flu’s” for first responders and essential personnel seem more like weapons against the citizenry than management and elected or appointed leaders.

It is stunning and yet, not at all surprising at the same time.

So what have we learned in some 125 years or so?

Thanks for some great thoughts, prose, and conversations over the past year. Happy New Year!

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 30, 2010 @ 10:48 am

Dan! Excellent comments. Sanitation, unions, organized crime–all related in NYC metro area IMO. Of course did watch the “Sopranos”!

Hey this one is going to be worth a detailed study and analysis whether by academics or the criminal justice system.

Perhaps the end of the year sluggishness in the markets will prevent this from being a crisis but it does help focus on the fact that NYC as the world’s center of finance is now being constantly threatened by those operations that are in perhaps surprisingly more stable environments from the standpoint of MOTHER NATURE! If waste, fraud and abuse does not destroy NYC leadership of the financial world perhaps a MOTHER NATURE that does NOT grant variances will. Thanks again to Phil for reaching back in the historical record.

In my 20 years in FEMA from 1979-1999 I often visited communities struggling to recovery from disaster. I often visited libraries and historical societies. In more than a few I found land developers and commerical interests had destroy deliberately the historic record to prevent newcomers from learning of the local hazards. One of the best examples was a particular island off the coast of S.Carolina where over 6,000 largely black “gullahs” perished in the 1880’s in a hurricane. The entire island experince flooding and storm surge to the depth of 6 feet plus. Of course an entirely modern seaside development now encompasses most of the island with owners and residents not having a clue of the past except for FEMA’s flood maps, which go largely unread since the development preceded FEMA’s coastal mapping efforts.

NYC has also pooh pood FEMA’s flood maps. Well it will be interesting to watch if a replay of the Hurricane of 1938 is replayed. Staten Island may succumb to climate change yet. A NYC without fire and emergency services or food or power or medical care is a scary thought. And of course the transportation dependent that cannot evacuate even with public transportation is huge. Yet like Boston, NYC is rapidly becoming a place where people work just to live there. As opposed to the converse.

Happy New Years!

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 31, 2010 @ 1:39 am

This story will have more legs to run!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 31, 2010 @ 6:41 am

Dan: Thanks. As you have probably seen the New York Post and other media are reporting, “Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles.” Phil

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/sanit_filthy_snow_slow_mo_qH57MZwC53QKOJlekSSDJK#ixzz19gkvB8Pw

Comment by Christopher Tingus

December 31, 2010 @ 9:22 am

Thanks Phil!

A Happy New Year greeting to all in what promises to be a year which will cause far more disharmony and death globally….

Most of us are looking at Yemen and northwestern Pakistan and the “Brutes of Tehran” and their trigger happy wishes which the world will grant to these thugs who like the NYC Sanitation workers who themselves willingly and intentionally place “innocent” New Yorker in peril possibly causing injury and even death, no less criminal and requiring prosecution with new laws to be enacted….Organized crime you say…look at the present Goldman Sachs administration with its empty pre-election promises, its inexperience and it clear intent to undermine the values and thwart the innovation and achievement this nation has always been recognized for….

The MA/Department of Revenue is a perfect example boasting of its uniqueness, conducting itself with its own rules, discarding citizens and taxpayers rights at its whim…suspending driver’s licenses of those who even in proper appeal of taxes…all at their discretion and no due process of law afforded….

We see rampant corruption and a million or more still in tattered tents in Haiti nearly one year (12th January) later and more bereavement now from cholera….

Never mind us seeing Exxon/Mobil profits soaring as gasoline reaches $3.50 gal in December, not in July and the “Brutes of Tehran” ready to unleach its own shock and awe against those in the UAE and Saudi Arabia with gasoline expected at $8.00 per gallon..never mind the reality of a western world sitting idle while the Sunni and Shite bring this world to its knees and Americans continued to be enslaved by this Goldman Sachs administration…

Organized crime? Take a look at your local, state budgets and demand a line by line accuntability….

It is not some classic December nor’easter not to be compared with the Blizzard of ’78 – (1978) or the past hugh storms in history…www.bluehill.org

The lawlessness and the complete disregard of our US Constitution and even State Constitution by this President well versed in Constitutional law, the abhorrent and intentional disregard for Rights as depicted by the actions of the MA/DOR towards its taxpayers, the same by these transit and other workers in NYC which whould be held and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as individuals who knowingly and intentionally placed those they have pledged to serve in harm’s way, possibly creating a scenario where precious Life would be lost, prosecute and send a messaage to those n NYC and in Boston within the legislature and DOR that every decision they make will be held accountable by Courts and laws made for convenience of those officials will be challenged by the Court itself…

Despite pre-election and now broken promises, the despair which grips NYC, Boston and many more Amwricans is not a classic nor’easter, but the “change” taken out of their pocket and so, so many at peril with the reality that while Barry and his Wife send their kids to a pretigious private school as he talks the talk about public schools, mkany parents do not even have lunch money to give to their kids…or money to figure out how to pay $400 for 100 gallons of oil while this country is awash in oil reserves underground and off our coastal waters –

Let’s get real. We cannot keep grasp of tjose whose visas expire and illegals are nothing less than law breakers which no other country tolerates while good ‘ol multi-millionaire Deval here in good ‘ol Taxachusetts wants to pay education costs and social costs of the illegal, while taxpayers, especially in proper appeal of disputed filing are so abused by the MA/DOR and state legislature.

Put the NYC workers in jail. Imagine that one would intentionally place another in peril, to compromise so many…how selfish and self-serving this nation, this grid-locked Congressional membership, this “Mr. Barney charade” has come to erode the values and the principles, the laws, the Rights of citizenand taxpayer.

There is no need to watch outer space for comet enroute to destroy us..We will do so and soon as gasoline is allocated and and at $8.00 + a gallon…you will finally wake up to the fact that if America is so untrusting of the same who pledge their commitment in serving the public whether you Barry or your cohorts on both sides of the aisle, the same you “entrust” with precious vote…little hope is offered to Palestinian or the good people of Haiti, those good peple in flooded out Pakistan, in Ghana, in Rwanda, in India wherever over 1 billion fellow humans have little or no access to a clean glass of water!

While most of us too young to see those stripped, shot and covered in the pit or the despair peering ut from wired concentration camps lining up outside the gas chamber walking step by step to certain death, unless the western civilized world puts a quick damper on the “Brutes of Tehran” and those in training camps in northwestern Pakistan and in Yemen, it will not be a classic nor’easter or the thugs at NYC’s snow removal ops, but far worse..far more worse than one can imagine.

While I once stood for three years in the snow, sleet bouncing off my face, the hot sun, in the midst of thunder and lightning, for 1,491 hours in one-man protest despite harrassment of local politician to successfully reopen a closed fire station intentionally closed for the sake of politicizing and backroom deal making, if I could come to New York and hold a sign demanding the prosecution of those found to intentionally jeopardize, I would be standing on street corner in NYC – stand and be counted for whether MA/DOR, the State Legislature or individual Sanitation workers which by the way are not part of organized crime…but employees of your sanitation department Mr. Mayor which given your money and arrogance, I’ll bet a few phone calls have laready been made and when we have another classic nor’easter around the middle of the month, the same criminal action will never again occur!

I strongly encourage you to get your marker, write up your own sign and stand on the corner…take back your government and those you afford such pensions and security while they willingly place you and/or your spouse, your children, family in jeopardy.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

December 31, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

Thanks Phil

It’s the same article I attached as well and was the source of, with an additional thought or two, of my post.

Happy New Year,


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