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Cold spell… The Report January 28, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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Thanks to EWI for forwarding me this document from John Tierney, Dublin City Manager, entitled “Report on the Cold Spell”. Google it and you’ll find it online.

A few points of particular interest are evident…

I should also advise members that in the city alone we have 1200km of roadway in the city and 2400 km of footpath.
The priority for maintaining roads in a passable condition is national primary routes, secondary routes, bus routes and specific connecting routes eg. North Circular/South Circular Roads. These priorities are also in accordance with the priorities set down by the National Emergency Response Committee. The demand on our resources as a result of the current extended cold period has meant that the Council has been unable to carry out gritting operations in some areas where it has been possible in previous years, such as bus routes in housing estates.

The anomalous nature of the weather conditions is pointed up by the following:

The scale of the problem is illustrated in terms of the demand for resources. Our normal stockpile of salt is 1300 tonnes. In the period 2002-2007 the average use per annum was 500 tonnes although this increased to 850 tonnes over the winter period 2008/2009. However in the period from 20th December 2009 to 11th January 2010 we have used almost 1700 tonnes. Unusually this type of demand is being replicated across the complete country, in the UK and in most of continental Europe leading to the eradication of salt stockpiles all over Europe and huge pressure on suppliers to keep pace with demand. Both the UK and Germany are in a more difficult position with salt than Ireland at present.

And what of this?

In the period up to the 6th January roads were gritted each morning commencing at 3.30am, including Christmas Day. There were up to seven crews mobilised on each occasion. With the serious snowfall on 6th January 2010 gritting crews were out from the afternoon and all during the night and about 150 tonnes of salt was spread to deal with that situation.

I was reading the Sunday Business Post the week after the freeze ended (in Dublin) and noted that they regarded the events of that week as [another] example of public sector failure and the need for public service reform.

As local authorities around the country grapple with the challenges presented by the current extreme weather conditions, the structure of Ireland’s public sector is once again being called into question.

In an environment where salary cuts and payroll reductions have been applied, disparate local authorities are applying their limited resources now to tackle extreme weather conditions.

The result of the recent weather conditions will have a negative impact on the roads maintenance and payroll budgets of each of the local authorities – further constraining these organisations in delivering service.

And so on. One correspondent was particularly irked by all this… and decided that…

The convening of an emergency response committee meeting two weeks into a predictable weather crisis is laughable. The National Roads Authority says it is looking after its patch. The local authorities blame the Department of the Environment for reducing their budgets, so their lack of resources -manpower, equipment, salt and grit – is really someone else’s problem.

The seeming reluctance to engage with quarry owners, farmers and other providers of help is extraordinary. Did I hear that local councils can’t use sand from beaches because it breaches some EU ruling about protecting our coastline?

Hmmmm… taking sand from beaches – what, after all is the importance of protecting our coastlines from erosion, our amenities from despoiling etc, when weighed in the balance against the passing and once in a forty years inconvenience of not being able to get into work for a day or two… the latter is clearly much more important… Although – regarding that point – I also heard on RTÉ radio news an interview with an enterprising solo gritter attempting much the same trick of using sand from a beach and discovering that it wasn’t right for his machine.

But here, as they say, is the science bit from the DCC report…

We have been inundated with queries as to why we have not being using sand given the problems with rock salt supplies. Rock salt is the primary ingredient for dealing with snow and ice. The use of sand is limited in an urban situation because of the consequences for the drainage system. When the thaw comes the sand is washed into the drainage system and if not removed this causes blockages and potential flooding later. We are now dealing with this issue and using road sweepers to try and clean these areas as quickly as possible. This is the reason we have been very sparing in the use of sand in order to limit these problems. When stocks of rock salt diminished we secured white salt which was diluted with sand and while not as effective as the rock salt it is a better alternative than using sand on its own and this is what we used on Friday and Saturday night.

One could point to this as a perfect example of the contemporary demand for the instant, as distinct from the feasible, response. Still, here’s something else of interest.

We have been asked why the Army has not been called in to help within the city. I am representing the County and City Managers Association on the National Emergency Response Committee and attended meetings on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and again today. We raised this matter but this is a countrywide issue and Army resources are limited when spread across the entire country and when rosters are taken into account. Therefore the Committee decided that it was best to retain Army resources as much as possible to assist with health services and rescue services. Only very limited Army resources have been used for gritting around the country. Civil Defence volunteers carried out many missions throughout the region (ranging from footpath clearing near hospitals, gritting in fire station entrances, support in dealing with water supply burst reports, helping HSE to grit hospital car parks).

And also of central importance:

The situation with Homeless Persons is also constantly monitored and no person who required a bed space was on the streets. Outreach staff have been working to encourage all persons to avail of accommodation during this period. We have had spare capacity every night and anyone on the street was there by the own volition. Thankfully we have had no death reported as a result of the cold spell.

But the after-effects will remain long after the temperatures have risen…

There is a budgetary impact to all of the work which has been carried out in the past three weeks. We have not allowed this to be an impediment. The greatest impediment has been the availability of the rock salt. The total additional cost of additional works will be advised to Councillors in due course. The Department of Transport will be advised of costs and a claim for exceptional funding is being made. There will be additional costs at a later date to deal with the gulley cleaning, burst pipes and leakage as it arises. As with all such events, a full review of the City Council response will be undertaken including operations, co-ordination, communications etc. A report will be brought to the Corporate Policy Group in the first instance.

Which should be of considerable value to see…

The situation has been very demanding for all in the community but the City Council believes that by prioritising resources in the way we have (and in conjunction with our neighbouring authorities) we are ensuring that the City and the region remains accessible, businesses can remain open and public transport routes can continue to function to the maximum extent possible within the resources available to us.

And that, oddly enough, is borne out by the same edition of the Sunday Business Post which suggested that despite the
weather…

Workers were not put off by the severe weather conditions last week and anecdotal evidence suggests that absenteeism rates were remarkably low. While some business sectors appear to have emerged relatively unscathed from the icy conditions, the retail sector bore most of the pain.

Pat Delaney, director of business sections and regions at the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (Ibec), said Ibec’s members reported that ‘‘people had made enormous efforts to get to work’’. He said the marginal increase in absenteeism ‘‘showed the pragmatism that exists’’ in the workforce.

And to a degree, and not ignoring the fact that outside of Dublin parts of the country had laboured under severe weather conditions both before this date for a prolonged period of time, and after, this shows up the paucity of many of the attacks, not merely on public services, but also on the Government (albeit one Minister who had the good fortune to be abroad and delivered a ‘crisis, what crisis?’ approach appears to have woefully misjudged the mood and the actuality).

But – despite that – this is assuming a broader import in matters political, for in yesterday’s Irish Times it is noted that while:

THE ARMY WAS not deployed to clear or grit streets in the capital during the recent cold weather because the National Emergency Response Committee decided against sending in troops, Dublin city manager John Tierney has told members of the city council.
The assertion, contained in a report on the city’s response to the cold snap, would appear to be in conflict with Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea – who is also chairman of the Government’s Office of Emergency Planning – who told the Dáil last week that “all assets, resources and capabilities of the Defence Forces throughout the country were made available to provide assistance as required”.

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