NEW YORK (AP) — With fewer than 6 inches of snowfall expected Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (News - Alert) administration is readying its emergency–response team, determined not to take another political pummeling.
Less than two weeks after a post–Christmas blizzard paralyzed the city and its airports for days, the beleaguered mayor on Thursday detailed new and experimental plans for cleanup after the coming storm. Those include GPS devices on 50 sanitation trucks in Brooklyn, which was among the spots hardest hit by the last storm and worst neglected by the city.
"I realize there were problems with the city's snow–cleaning efforts last week," said Bloomberg, whose reputation as a pragmatic manager took a hit from the cleanup failures. "We want to assure all New Yorkers that we are doing everything in our power to make sure we don't experience those kinds of problems again."
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for New York City, parts of New York's suburban Hudson Valley and Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. It was in effect until midnight Friday, or 6 a.m. Saturday in some areas.
Three to 5 inches of snow were expected, and heavier accumulation of 6 to 9 inches is forecast for the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.
The snow began falling early Friday in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Only about 2 inches of snowfall is forecast for the Philadelphia region and into Delaware and eastern Maryland, but the heaviest is expected during morning rush hour. Snow could fall at a rate of up to an inch per hour, reducing visibility and causing hassles for commuters, especially on Interstate 95, the weather service warned.
The late–December storms in the East caused the cancellation of more than 10,000 flights and delayed travel plans for hundreds of thousands of passengers. With more snow in the forecast, major U.S. airlines were again warning of delays and cancellations and waiving the usual fees to change flights.
American, United and Continental said there could be travel disruptions at the large New York–area airports: Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy.
Last month's storm dumped 2 feet in some places. Many streets in boroughs outside Manhattan went unplowed for days, and ambulances and buses got stuck in the snow. Calls to 911 backed up, and some people who needed urgent medical care did not get it. The snow melted days later to reveal huge piles of trash that garbage trucks hadn't been able to reach.
The pilot GPS devices in Brooklyn, Bloomberg said, will let officials track plows and also let sanitation workers in the field report problems, like stuck cars, with exact locations. If successful, the city plans to install GPS on all of its 1,700 sanitation trucks.
The city will also deploy teams from its street conditions observation unit, which typically looks for quality–of–life problems like potholes and graffiti, to monitor conditions during the storm. The teams will shoot video of the conditions on the streets.
Patrick Bahnken, president of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors FDNY, said the difficulties were in no way the fault of his union's members, many of whom were desperately trying to get through the snow and save lives during the storm and its aftermath. At one point 911 dispatchers and emergency medical technicians were wrestling a backlog of 1,300 emergency calls.
"The EMS system did not fail. The support of the EMS system failed," said Bahnken, who argued that ambulances should have been given snow chains even if it posed some slight risk to the vehicles. "For God's sake, we're talking about lives here, and you're worrying about what's going to happen to an ambulance," he said.
The mayor also began personnel shake–ups.
On Thursday, officials said the Sanitation Commissioner was replacing managers in the south Brooklyn district where many streets went unplowed long after the storm. The city is reducing the size of that district to make it more even with the north Brooklyn district, officials said.
The move officially goes into effect Monday, and during the upcoming storm the existing managers will be shadowed by their replacements as part of the transition.
The chief of the fire department's Emergency Medical Service Command was replaced this week amid investigations of hundreds of ambulances getting stranded in the snow and 911 calls becoming backlogged. Aides say more demotions or firings are not unlikely.
A new poll found Bloomberg's approval rating took a hit after the chaotic cleanup. The Marist College survey of registered voters found that 37 percent said he is doing a good or excellent job, and 60 percent rate it as fair or poor.
That's a major dip from October, when 50 percent rated Bloomberg as good or excellent, and 45 as fair or poor.
When asked specifically about how he handled the snow cleanup, 71 percent disapproved and 21 percent approved.
The poll questioned 439 registered voters on Wednesday. It has a plus or minus 5 percentage point margin of error.
Bloomberg has also directed the citywide director of emergency communications to examine why the communications and dispatching system failed.
Even after the last flakes fell, one woman with a broken ankle waited 30 hours for an ambulance. Another woman waiting for help gave birth to an unconscious child who was declared dead at a hospital.
Federal prosecutors and city investigators are also looking into claims that sanitation workers sabotaged the city's snow cleanup as a job action staged to protest a department shuffling of supervisors.
Associated Press (News - Alert) airlines writer David Koenig in Dallas and Samantha Gross in New York contributed to this report.