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Big storm leads to confusion at city hall

Laurel Mercury
Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation
Van Asselt Community Center, 2820 S. Myrtle St., is staffed by the Seattle Parks Department. During the January 2012 snow and ice storm, 70% of Parks Department employees didn't show up for work.

During the January snow and ice storm,  Seattle officials told commuters to stay off the roadways.  But the message caused confusion among the city’s own employees.

It’s a problem you may have faced in your own workplace.  If it’s a snow day and your boss says only critical personnel have to come in, does that include you? 

A city task force that reviewed Seattle’s response to the January snow and ice storm cited the “lack of clarity” around who does or doesn’t work in an emergency as a problem that needs to be addressed.

For example, the Seattle Parks Department workforce was down by 70% at one point during the storm. Emergency Operations Manager Barb Graff told the City Council that could have posed a critical problem if it turned out the community centers had to be used for shelter.

"If we had needed to open shelters late in the week and the Parks Department was down in their staffing because we were sending the message out that nonessential employees should stay home," she said.

According to the  report,  issues in other departments included:

  • Some employees or their supervisors were unfamiliar with the City inclement weather policy.
  • With a constantly changing weather situation some supervisors and their employees had difficulty determining what was expected.
  • Some Departments may not have sufficient information about resources available to support employees working from home.
  • Some City employees could not get to work because buses were full.

On the bright side, the report showed that the  Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro worked well together so that the clearing of roads and scheduling of buses was much improved over the storm response to the big snow storm of 2008-2009.