Snow plans didn't work Botched job: Local leaders should have done more to prepare for bad blizzard.

January 20, 1996

LET'S GIVE credit where credit is due. Hundreds of municipal, county and state employees worked long hours to keep Maryland from completely succumbing to what is being called the blizzard of the century. They deserve commendation.

Appreciation of their dedication, however, does not mean the public should accept the excuse of their bosses. Much-criticized officials who argue that no one could plan for so much snow miss the point. They need to have a comprehensive strategy that can be applied successfully in any snow emergency.

They should have planned for the blizzard of the century the same way America used to plan for nuclear attack -- hoping the plans never have to be used but updating them constantly to address every possible situation. The problem with most of the current snow emergency plans is they do little more than call for stockpiling lots of salt and sand and budgeting overtime for road crews. It was meaningless in many areas when the media began announcing snow emergency routes because most of those roads were impassable. And not just in any one jurisdiction. Snow removal efforts were inadequate in nearly all of central Maryland.

In Baltimore City, for example, snow emergency routes couldn't be properly plowed because people never moved their cars out of the way. The city didn't help the situation by being lenient about ticketing or towing parked cars. A better plan might have included designated locations where vehicles could be parked before the first flake fell. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says the city couldn't be responsible for clearing lots at schools and shopping centers for cars. But if if the city had done that, main thoroughfares might not have had snow on them a week later.

In retrospect, Mr. Schmoke says he should have stressed that each family should have developed its own snow emergency plan that included where to take the car. Certainly if more people had acted promptly to move their cars, it wouldn't have taken so long to get streets plowed. But government must have an adequate plan to address every possibility, including the irresponsibility of some citizens.

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