Elicker: Let’s Learn From Nemo

Paul Bass PhotoNew Haven hadn’t seen a storm like it for more than a century. The next one might come much sooner.

So observed Democratic mayoral candidate Justin Elicker.

Elicker, an East Rock aldermen, hung out this week in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) under the 200 Orange St. municipal office building to see firsthand how officials were coordinating the around-the-clock response to Winter Storm Nemo. The blizzard buried New Haven in 34 inches of snow. It was the city’s biggest snowstorm since the 1800s.

Climate change is bringing more and more monster storms our way, Elicker observed (echoing an observation the governor made in a New Haven visit Tuesday).

“We’re going to start seeing a lot more storms like this in the future. This gives us an opportunity to sit down after the storm and talk about what well and what could be doing better,” he said in an EOC interview. (Click on the play arrow for excerpts.)

He had some ideas.

But first he made a point of praising the work he observed in the EOC.

“Dedicated employees are trying to put out fires a from a hundred-year storm,” he said. “I think it’s pretty impressive,” both what “city employees are doing” and what neighbors are doing out on the streets.

One major Elicker suggestion: “Communication can be improved.”

“A lot of residents feel that their streets are not being treated well and others are. That’s just not true. But empowering residents to know what’s going on” would help earn the public’s trust, he argued. The city can monitor the locations of snow plows through GPS. Why not give citizens the same access? he asked.

He also suggested that the city do a better job of informing people before a storm hits that they can bring their cars off the streets to parking authority garages a full eight hours before the first flakes. Cars parked (and stuck) on streets have delayed the plowing during Nemo.

Similarly he said the city should let people know well in advance of storms where it will tow cars to make room for plows—and then “the city has to follow through” with the pre-snow towing.

Asked about Elicker’s comments, city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts, who has overseen the city’s storm response, agreed that climate change may well bring more such monster storms to New Haven more often. He also agreed about the importance of learning from this one. And he agreed that “communication is always important.” In between helping direct emergency vehicles or slow plows, and working every waking hour since last Friday, Smuts has been swiftly adding factual information to news or reader comment posts that have appeared online. Within moments of an article appearing about the Air National Guard’s first day in town, for instance, he explained why a staging area had shifted. He detailed steps the city took to inform people about emergency parking bans.

Smuts said he’s not sure in retrospect how the city would have planned communications differently, especially about towing, given the forecast that preceded Nemo. The city geared up for 10-18 inches of snow. The forecasts called for no more than that, he said. So the city planned to two cars on 32 key arteries to make way for plowing. It was going to do some of that towing into Friday evening. Then Nemo pounced on New Haven with unforeseen, and historic, ferocity. Eight inches of snow fell in two-and-a-half hours alone, buffeted by 55-mile-per-hour winds. Snow plows got stuck; ambulances and fire trucks got stuck. The governor even directed ambulances to stay off the roads. The 34 inches that fell, fast, was more than New Haven had seen in over 100 years; even in the blizzard of 1888 the snow took longer to accumulate.

“This was just beyond the scope of what people could conceive would happen,” Smuts said. “There was just too much snow,” and far more than officials anticipated would fall.

Another mayoral candidate, state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield of Newhallville, was asked his take. He counseled patience on citizens’ part.

“It’s a difficult process,” he said of cleaning up from a 34-inch snowfall. “It’s slower than people would like. People have to understand—the best thing is for them to help their neighbors. The city is doing what it can to get people out. Neighbors need to act like neighbors.”

Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, who’s contemplating a mayoral run, declined to comment for this story.

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posted by: CreatingUrgency on February 14, 2013  2:19pm

I hate that people with long driveways don’t encourage others to park in them when it snows. The “I might need to get out” mentality is staggering. No one is going any where (even with 10 inches of snow). Plan ahead.

In Hamden, my neighbors put their vehicles up on the lawn out of the way of plows. We all chipped in with shoveling and snow-blowing.

Get the vehicles OFF the road. Let the plows do their work.

posted by: Rob Smuts on February 14, 2013  3:01pm

Quick clarification - we were planning on towing downtown and on 32 streets where we had the most problem in neighborhoods during the Jan 2011 storms, but couldn’t send tow crews out in the type of storm that we ended up getting.  The lessons from the 2011 storms were principally: communicate as much as possible and don’t hesitate to tow.

The communication part is true no matter the type of event, and it’s great to have the NHI provide such great coverage - I’m almost ready to add you guys to the agenda when we do our internal briefings, since you’re such a reliable presence.  SeeClickFix, our “reverse-911” calls, and the traditional media outlets too.

We will be doing an after-action assessment in the next few weeks as we always do after these events - this time it would be neat to see if we can open up the feedback.  The Board often has a public hearing, but maybe we can work something out with SeeClickFix and/or the NHI too.

posted by: Fair and Honest on February 14, 2013  3:25pm

I’m impressed. Elicker really does his homework. He doesn’t just criticize or toss out vague comments like some politicians. He makes sure he has done everything he can to understand the whole situation first. And he shows that he’s planning ahead for the city.

posted by: robn on February 14, 2013  4:12pm

A mayoral candidate willing to use science as a tool of government? Preposterous!

posted by: Wooster Squared on February 14, 2013  4:28pm

“Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, who’s contemplating a mayoral run, declined to comment for this story.”

Let me get this straight:

Jorge Perez, the “Acting Mayor” for part of this storm and a potential candidate, declined to comment on how the City handled the storm and what could be done better?

posted by: HhE on February 15, 2013  12:07am

Wooster Squared, when one is sitting on a fence, it is a balancing act, after all. 

Justin on the other hand, is cut from a different cloth.  (Ventile, I should think.)

posted by: anonymous on February 15, 2013  12:08pm

Good to hear that there will be a public review. Hope the NHI can keep area organizations aware of that. It would help if the City shared its findings (for example, on how many injuries and crashes there have been) before the hearing, not during or after them.

posted by: Rosas on February 15, 2013  1:00pm

It seems to me that he inserted himself in a major story in an attempt to grab headlines. Mission accomplished.

posted by: Pat from Westville on February 15, 2013  5:36pm

“The city geared up for 10-18 inches of snow. The forecasts called for no more than that, he said.”

Don’t know what forecasts the city was reading but here is what Gil Simmons of WTNH said in a midday update:

Updated: Friday, 08 Feb 2013, 1:42 PM EST
(WTNH) - Friday forecast update by Meteorologist Gil Simmons & Meteorologist Sam Kantrow


FRIDAY NIGHT: Heavy snow with thunder snow possible. Gusty winds 25 to 70mph. Strongest for Eastern Ct and the shoreline where a 3’ to 7’ increase of the tide height is possible with moderate coastal flooding 7PM-10PM. Dangerous driving conditions with blinding snow across the state. Temps falling through the 20s and teens.

SATURDAY: Snow gradually ending 8AM-noon. Significant accumulations statewide 12” to 25”.

posted by: Stephen Harris on February 16, 2013  5:04pm

When you get blind-sided by twice as much snow as predicted, you roll with the punches. I think the response was very good considering the circumstances.

I think we may have become too expectant of instant solutions to whatever problem comes upon us. Sometimes, maybe every time, a little patience is in order.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 19, 2013  9:36am


I have to disagree…many of our leaders were downtown putting in time to help. It is what leaders do in times like these. When he was not outside shoveling people out. And if you knew Justin you would no that he is like this with everything…very involved.

posted by: Rosas on February 19, 2013  9:55am

CHR - I’m sorry, but I don’t see second-guessing people doing the actual work as “helping.”

posted by: HhE on February 19, 2013  10:39am

Rosas, let me see…

Keeping residents informed through his e mail letter.

Learning by watching, and sharing what he learned. 

Passing on information to the people working at the EOC. 

Any more axes to grind?  Come on over, I have an 8 inch, variable speed, dry grinder, and slow speed wet grinder with all the jigs, and an great set of stones.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 19, 2013  10:56am


Even though I could not say that he was at all second-guessing people doing the actual work..which half the citizen were doing because they were trapped.  I think assessing how it is done was the right thing. And again many of our city leaders were in the office doing the same. To try to see if there is a better way is wrong??? Really?? I want a mayor that can and will do that with everything. Assess and streamline what can be.
I was raised to always get a second opinion on things. Ya know two heads are better than one. Ying and yang.
I know that the conversation many in my area and across the city was…how hard could it be to get a gps map or spread sheet of where the plows are plowing? Sometime the simple and transparent. But again I am not you so I am not sure how you were effected.
Are you a city worker or a family member of one?
Did your street get cared for?
Do you even live in New Haven?
Are you a supporter of another candidate?

These all can factoring in how you view thing. And I respect your opinion as I hope you will respect mine.