Metro official says Fenty should have treated snowstorms as disaster

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

Metro's emergency management chief said Thursday that the District's response to recent snowstorms might have run smoother if the storms had been treated as a disaster or major security threat.

Peter LaPorte, who headed emergency management for the city under former mayor Anthony Williams (D), told a D.C. Council committee that he was the "snow czar" during that administration, which he said made it easy for government agencies to coordinate response efforts.

"If I was [asked] how to run that snowstorm, I would have run it out of the emergency management" agency, said LaPorte, who appeared before the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary to speak in support of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's nominee to head the city's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

LaPorte said he thinks the city's emergency management coordinators performed well during the two major snowstorms this month, but he became the latest voice to question how Fenty (D) managed the storms.

Although Fenty activated the city's emergency operations center in Southeast, he seemed to work most closely with Gabe Klein, director of the city's Department of Transportation, and Bill Howland, head of the Department of Public Works, in overseeing much of the response.

Fenty did not did not directly answer questions about how he managed the storm, but his spokeswoman issued a statement Thursday praising snowplow crews. The mayor thinks they "not only did heroic work under extreme conditions," said the statement from Mafara Hobson, "but are the best example of a city government that is committed to providing the best services humanly possible for its citizens."

On Thursday, the heads of the police and paramedic unions told The Washington Post that they thought the administration did not realize how big a threat the snowstorms could have been to public safety.

"We had absolutely no plan," said Kenneth Lyons, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents many D.C. paramedics. "We treated it as any other day, and there was no effort to look at this as something that needed emergency planning. . . . We needed help."

Fenty never ordered a state of emergency during the storms, although the governors of neighboring Maryland and Virginia did.

The city also used only 16 National Guard Humvees, although paramedics and police officers said they could have used dozens more.

"The bottom line is: If something big would have happened, we would have been in serious trouble," said Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. police union. "We had very limited mobility, and the command structure was not set up as if it was an emergency."

The city has also been criticized for not following the federal government's decisions about closing government offices. Fenty kept city offices open Feb. 8 and 9, although federal agencies were closed. The federal government reopened last Friday, but streets narrowed by snowbanks resulted in massive traffic tie-ups.

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