Pittsburgh Councilwoman Reviews Snow Response and Patient Death

Communication breakdown root of slow Pittsburgh snow response


ADAM BRANDOLPH, Pittburgh Tribune Review | | Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Three months after snowstorms crippled Pittsburgh, City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak today said the city experienced a breakdown of communication within departments, with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and with residents.

"It's this total lack of communication that's concerning to me," Rudiak said. "If we can't communicate about an emergency, how can we be expected to communicate during an emergency?"

Rudiak subpoenaed city Public Safety Director Michael Huss to appear before council to discuss his role in the city's response to February's snowstorms. Rudiak said Huss failed to acknowledge seven prior invitations throughout March and April to attend meetings with council's Snow Emergency Task Force.

Huss said he was frustrated by public safety employees' inability to get around and respond to emergencies, and "threw everything" the city had at the storm. "We recalled all firefighters, put police on additional shifts, called in outside contractors and the National Guard," Huss said. "This storm was all hands on deck." He said he did not respond to Rudiak's requests to attend meetings because he did not feel they would be productive.

"The historic snow of this February was a great challenge for all of us employed by the city of Pittsburgh," Huss, who also is the city's director of emergency management, told council members. "I saw some very dedicated people that week (who) did everything they could to restore the city."

Huss was with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl celebrating the mayor's 30th birthday at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in the Laurel Highlands when the Feb. 5-6 snowstorm began. Huss said he left the city on Friday afternoon and returned with Ravenstahl on Sunday morning.

February set a record for the snowiest month in the Pittsburgh area, with more than 40 inches of accumulation, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. The initial storm dumped about 20 inches on the city, closing schools and some businesses for more than a week. City officials spent an estimated $3.64 million cleaning up the snow and ice that knocked out power to thousands of people for days, shut down roads and led to a Hazelwood man's death.

Rudiak said she heard complaints from city employees called to work who couldn't find a place to park once they got to their police, fire or EMS station. Huss said he told employees to "figure it out" themselves because it was not a priority. "I had a shovel in my car and I shoveled myself out," he said. "I think that we (in public safety) are resilient enough that we can pick up a shovel and shovel the snow."

More than 200 people submitted comments to the task force's website. Many were complaints about unplowed roads. The task force will hold another public hearing in a few weeks, and compile and release a report from the interviews and statements from residents to improve emergency operations.  May 10, 2010


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