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Did Seattle earn a passing grade during one of the biggest storms in years?

Compared to the snowstorm that shut down Seattle for weeks, a former city councilmember says leadership did a much better job when storms slammed western Washington in early February.

The storms that brought record snowfall to the City of Seattle earlier in February undoubtedly caused their share of problems: sidewalks went un-shoveled, schools shut down for days, and many secondary streets went untreated. 

But the city's response to the storms that brought about 20 inches of snow in the first 11 days of February shined when compared to previous years. 

If you ask former city Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Seattle was more prepared this time around than it was during the storm that was believed to be responsible for ruining former Mayor Greg Nickels' chance of being re-elected. 

"It was all hands on deck," Rasmussen said of the city's response earlier this month. During his time on the council in which he served three terms, he also served as chair of the Transportation Committee before retiring.

Rasmussen called for an investigation of the Seattle Department of Transportation over how it handled the snowstorm that hit in December of 2008 and essentially shut down the city for two weeks. Follow-up reports from The Seattle Times found what the paper described as a "disjointed response" that left main roads untreated and special treatment given to areas where city leaders lived. Nickels gave the city's response to the storm a "B." It was an arbitrary grade that was scoffed at by many. 

Rasmussen says the administration 10 years ago did not seem prepared or organized. Leadership, he recalls, was not nearly as engaged as he would have liked to see. 

This time around, however, the West Seattle resident says things appeared to work well. Main arterials were treated and Metro was kept running on snow routes. 

Late last week, the city released a recap of how it handled what it calls Seattle's "snowiest month in 50 years." In it, the city says that essential services remained open 24/7. On Feb, 8, Mayor Jenny Durkan activated the Emergency Operations Center that the city says allowed it to deploy resources faster. SDOT used at least 35 plows at any given time, which were "put into near continuous 24-hour use for the duration of the storm." In total, approximately 100 pieces of equipment were driven for thousands of miles and crews were deployed in 12-hours shifts in an effort to keep Seattle open, according to the city. 

The city's response still wasn't perfect. Side streets and sidewalks went untreated for days. 

At least part of the problem stems from the city's available resources. Rodney Maxie, the deputy director of of maintenance operations for SDOT, noted the department needs hundreds of additional plows to effectively clear all of Seattle's streets after a snow storm. Every year, the city releases a map of the roads that will be priority during a winter storm - hundreds of miles of roadway is left untouched. But it would cost the city millions in capital investment to add more plows for such rare storms. 

Still, the storm's impacts were felt for days. Schools in the city shut down, leading to what was dubbed "Operation Shared Shovel," an effort to get people out clearing sidewalks in front of their homes and around schools. That was something Rasmussen says should have been communicated earlier on. 

Overall, however, Rasmussen says he's seen the city generally improve its emergency response. This time he was pleased to see city leadership actually walk the streets and observe conditions for themselves, as well as give daily briefings on progress being made. 

Rasmussen says this storm, like any other major event, weather or otherwise, gives the city the chance for review.

"Any time you have a major incident that involves the city, even if it appears to do well, there's always room for improvement," he said.

Of course, every storm is different. Who knows what challenges the next will bring? 

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