In 2008, Seattle was hit with persistent winter storms that covered streets in snow and ice for days during the Christmas shopping season, and city officials were heavily criticized for the poor road conditions that resulted. Last year, however, the city revised its winter weather response plan, which successfully passed its first test in January.

To ensure that the December 2008 conditions would not be repeated, in fall 2009, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Seattle Office of Emergency Management contracted with Washington-based Witt Associates to review SDOT’s emergency preparedness program and develop an improved action plan. SDOT took the recommendations and updated its plans, instituting training to ensure the overall readiness of winter storm responders.

In addition, a coordinated communication plan was developed, including response agencies such as the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, Washington DOT, King County Metro, King County DOT and the Seattle Police Department. The agencies developed key messages, set public expectations and sent weekly emails to keep staff current on the state of readiness. 

After city officials approved the new Winter Weather Readiness and Response Plan in November 2011, numerous frosts and hard freezes helped snow and ice crews practice their response. By the time the National Weather Service issued the first winter storm advisory in mid-January, the incident commander put staff resources on two 12-hour shifts and ensured all equipment and resources were ready. Also, pre-event agreements with snow plow contractors and equipment vendors were activated.

During the storm, incident response crews had access to SDOT’s Intelligent Transportation System cameras, Winter Response Map, and Snow Weather Forecasting tool that improved situational awareness. And, the city carried out its communications plan to inform the public about road conditions. With the changes, SDOT met its goal three times during the storm to have key transportation routes bare and wet in all lanes in both directions within 12 hours after a significant lull.