Island Forum | Ciy response to December snow storms was dismal
January 14, 2009 · Updated 4:18 PM
It is time for Mercer Island’s elected leaders to take a hard look at our city’s disaster planning. The city’s inadequate response to last month’s weather placed its citizens in danger and highlighted the need for reassessment.
Despite living a reasonably flat two blocks from West Mercer Way, I was unable to get out of my immediate area on many of the ten days affected. When I was able to get to I-90 I found it safe and easily drivable. Roads serviced by the Washington State Department of Transportation allowed safe and near normal travel.
There was little effort on the part of the city of Mercer Island to help its citizens during this weather. Driving could be impossible, while walking was treacherous on flat surfaces and often futile on hills. Collateral effects, such as the School District canceling classes due to “possible” snow, are equally disruptive. This laissez-faire approach to road maintenance is dangerous and wrong. If the official attitude is “self-reliance”, then we really need to ask why we are paying property taxes. The city recently spent a million dollars creating a new soccer field so that players would have safer footing during ball games when the weather is inclement, but does not feel that spending enough money to allow people to travel to work or vital services is a worthwhile goal.
It is wrong that snowfall any municipality outside the Northwest would consider relatively minor should shut down the island for days. It is wrong that days into such weather it was still not safe for an ambulance to come to my house in an emergency. It is reasonable to expect streets to be passable within one day of a snowfall.
Those who think that events of the past week will be rare had best get ready for a new definition of “rare”. Climate change is going to make this type of weather more and more frequent in the future, and prudent communities should plan for this.
Parts of the island suffered similar problems last winter following even less snowfall. The city dealt poorly with the windstorm two years ago. Stocking the recommended seven-day supply of food and water would not necessarily have proved adequate last month. How are we going to handle a much more significant event, such as an earthquake?
We should not have bond issues or tax hikes to pay for pretty parks or other whims until we have an adequate infrastructure to handle emergencies. Just as we are to have emergency supplies in our home, the city should have emergency services in their cupboard. We need vehicles able to clear the snow and ice of winter. We need equipment to clear roads after wind storms so that emergency crews can get to power lines or citizens in need. We need emergency medical care available on the island so that initial medical care can be delivered to those in distress. Presently, Mercer Island Medic One crews — capable as they are— are unable by state law to start an IV or deliver medication. Someone having a heart attack while digging out to get some food at the grocery store cannot get adequate treatment if the ambulance from Bellevue has difficulty getting to the island.
It is time for a change in approach from the city leadership.
David Charney is an Island resident.