February 28, 2018
This morning, we woke up to a red warning from Met Éireann. That should have given us certainty. Instead many of us had no idea what that means in practice.
If the warning system was integrated with government services it would have been obvious.
Red could have meant no schools, no work or work from home, and no businesses opening except emergency services. Public transport would run severely limited services and unless absolutely necessary, nobody should travel.
Instead, the Department of Education decided to let every school in the country decide whether to open or not, leading to a crazy situation where parents with children in different schools might have had one stuck home, and the other not. Colleges were furiously convening their emergency committees to figure out whether to open or not, and trying to figure out how many staff could get in to teach and students were guessing whether they have to be there or not.
Instead, bosses were up at the crack of dawn trying to figure out if their premises were open and whether they should or could give their employees the day off, or ask them to work from home.
Instead, hundreds of thousands of workers googled how to defrost their cars, or trudged through the snow to bus stops and train stations without really knowing if their bus or train was going to arrive, and with the even worse doubt if they would be able to get home after work.
Instead we had the Gardaí, the Road Safety Authority and every public transport provider urging people not to travel, various parts of government encouraging us to follow safety advice which, while well meaning, was insufficient, and a continuous flow of increasingly contradictory information from disconnected parts of government.
The Taoiseach himself urged business to consider whether they need to open, — again providing no clear advice, and no answers for the workers in those businesses. Meanwhile the defence forces are put on alert to cope with hundreds of thousands who had to travel because no matter what warnings are issued, if the boss says work, you work.
According to Met Éireann, a Red Snow/Ice warning is “a comparatively rare event and implies that recipients take action to protect themselves and/or their properties; this could be by moving their families out of the danger zone temporarily; by staying indoors; or by other specific actions aimed at mitigating the effects of the weather conditions.”
What mitigating actions were we meant to do this morning? Stay indoors? Not possible, as many workplaces remained open.
Specifically, a Red warning indicates that the “situation [is] likely to worsen.”
If the red warning was truly meaningful, then there should be no question that everything would just shut down. For all that it would be inconvenient, we could at least make plans, and be prepared for the day or days to come.
That may sound like a step too far, but as there is no warning more serious than a red warning, we have to take it seriously.
If things aren’t that bad, then an orange warning should suffice.
Instead, we get a red warning which serves no purpose other than telling us that it’s really cold. Great. Thanks.
Government needs to link Met Éireann warnings to predictable, known consequences, and either give the national emergency coordination group the responsibility to issue red warnings instead of Met Éireann, or the obligation to follow Met Éireann’s advice.
Aengus Ó Maoláin is chairperson of the Dublin West Social Democrats and the party’s representative for Castleknock and Blanchardstown.
This piece was originally published in medium.com and can be read here.