Major Incidents, News

Pittsburgh Officials Prepare for Worst Winter

As the first flakes of snow were forecast to fall in the region, Pittsburgh officials began putting the finishing touches on a snow-response plan to avoid a repeat of February’s disaster.

Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said Friday the city “will be prepared for the worst” when snowstorms hit the city this winter. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl “charged us to be prepared for anything,” he said. The response plan, Kaczorowski said, includes snow emergency routes, a schedule of how long snow clearing will take, depending on accumulation, and where to call in an emergency. It likely won’t be needed this weekend. The National Weather Service called for flurries but no accumulation in the Pittsburgh area, with slick bridge decks possible by this morning. Much of the city and some suburbs were paralyzed by nearly 2 feet of snow that fell Feb. 5-6, followed by 8 inches several days later. The city spent more than $3.6 million to clean up snow and ice that, in some cases, trapped people on their streets for days. Ravenstahl’s 311 response line was flooded with more than 1,300 calls a day.

In October, City Council issued a report saying poor communication and preparation led to a lackluster city effort to clear streets, and recommended changes including better equipment and response plans. The family of Curtis Mitchell, 50, of Hazelwood, who died Feb. 7 while waiting 30 hours for an ambulance during the storm, sued the city in September claiming officials did not do enough to reach him.

As part of the new plan, the city is lining up contractors and equipment to help during major storms, Kaczorowski said. Those contractors won’t salt and plow roads, the job of Public Works employees, but will haul and remove snow if needed. In February, the city had to hire contractors on an emergency basis to help clear clogged streets.

Many of the plan highlights will be spelled out in a flier that will be mailed to city residents shortly, Kaczorowski said. It will contain tips on how to prepare for a major snowstorm, including assembling an emergency kit for a vehicle and putting good tires on vehicles.