Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Coping with bad weather

Ireland has experienced unprecedented disruption as a consequence of snow and freezing weather during  two consecutive winters and repeated episodes of large scale flooding at other times. Government agencies, local authorities and transport providers attempt to provide a coordinated response to weather-related emergencies but are doing so in the absence of any predetermined published priorities, benchmark levels of resources and equipment, lines of accountability, legal or regulatory framework.

A nationwide Adverse Weather Operations Plan needs to be devised and published to overcome these shortcomings.   An operations plan should identify who in a particular region is responsible for declaring a weather-related emergency and leading the response to it. This ought to facilitate  the response of the authorities and integrate those with communities and farmers with suitable equipment against a framework of known priorities and expectations.  Regulations should cover snow and slush clearance and the identification of which roads and routes across the country have priority in terms of attention and resources.  Categories of priority attaching to particular roads would be determined by the importance of the access they provide.  An effective response to the threat of widespread flooding also needs to be taken into consideration in devising such a plan.

Regulations ought to, for example, ban the dumping of snow from a private property onto a footpath or road and establish guidance on the adequate clearance of snow to allow safe passage on footpaths and from fire hydrants and storm drains.

Regulations could also establish emergency parking bans along critically important routes to keep traffic moving safely in snow or in freezing conditions.  Discounted off-street parking might be made available for as long as a weather emergency exists - as a condition of planning approval. 

Bright coloured highly visible sand and grit boxes might be located at strategically important junctions and close to train stations to allow communities clear footpaths, drains and fire hydrants and to encourage use of public transport.

A central low-cost telephone service and and flooding web site might be established to provide a 1-stop source of information dealing with emergency consequences such as driving conditions, school closures, the cancellation of examinations, or changes to the routines of hospitals.   It ought to to be possible to identify vital arteries on such a web site as a component of the long-term planning process and this would enable motorists to become aware of them and respond appropriately when an emergency arises.

The impact of these suggestions ought to enhance the safe passage of vehicles and pedestrians - residents, workers and visitors, but especially the elderly and the handicapped.  It would also provide a context for the avoidance of the threat of flooding on the devastating scale witnessed too frequently in recent times, as well as dealing with its immediate consequences.

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