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Terry Prone: If we don't learn how to cope we'll be facing major tragedy

It's not as if we weren't expecting the weather. We were.

The forecasters -- including that postman who works it out by watching the sunset and the facial expressions of his local sheep -- all told us we were in for snow, sleet, hail and ice.

When it arrived, we gritted our teeth and got on with it as best we could. Which wasn't easy, since our teeth, two weeks ago, were the only things being gritted.

We figured the authorities would have it all sorted in a couple of days.

Not only did that not happen, but last night was the worst night of all, as many Dublin commuters slid along slithery city streets, watched drivers abandon buses and observed passersby pushing cars to the side of the road.

Slithering

First thing this morning, we were told that seven crews had been out gritting from midnight. Fair dues to them, was the first reaction.

The second reaction: "Why did they start only at midnight?"

Because, by midnight, most of the inner city streets were no longer filled with slithering cars. That would have been the time to grit them, moving out to the feeder roads later in the night.

But this morning, weirdly, many motorists encountered properly gritted roads as they left their estates, made good progress into the city -- and then found major roads and bridges covered in ungritted hard ice.

It's easy to bitch about the fact that many areas in Ireland have been brought to a standstill for two weeks by a scattering of hail and snow Canada wouldn't break stride for.

It's also easy to point out that this doesn't happen often, so we're not used to coping with Arctic conditions.

Both are true. But the grim underlying truth of the last fortnight is its demonstration of how badly we are set up for disaster.

Explosion

Our emergency services are individually wonderful, but have way too little experience of working in concert and working in jurisdictions other than their own.

Local authorities don't do half enough practical crisis-simulation -- working through, on the ground, what they'll do in the face of an enormous explosion or fire or flood.

That's not their fault. In this country, we can't be bothered with long-term planning.

But because of nationally inadequate emergency planning and practical rehearsal for extreme conditions, when they arrive, we're gobsmacked and shamefully incompetent.

It's time we got serious about emergency planning. If we don't, a crisis will hit us and, through our inability to cope, we'll turn it into a major tragedy.


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