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Terry Prone: So the weather was a once-in-30-years event was it? well now we know to prepare... don't we?

While the ice on lakes is breaking into sheets and shards, and the snowmen are melting, half the country is now flooded again, partly because of the sudden downpour of the last couple of days, partly because the pipes, as they thawed, burst their contents all over everything.

As we come to the end of this once-in-30-years disaster, we can look forward to walking easily, driving without difficulty or having a long, luxurious shower.

We might be tempted to feel that, while the beginning of 2010 may not have shown national or local government in a positive light, you have to be fair. They didn't expect that it would be so bad, any more than the rest of us expected it.

From now on, however, all bets are off.

Never mind global warming. Never mind climate change. The real issue now is climate chaos. In the coming years we're going to experience more and more extreme weather outbreaks, and while we may reluctantly shrug off how badly Ireland coped this time around, there will be no shrugging next time around.

The facts are pretty damn clear at this point.

There was no overall disaster plan. No trigger to ensure that when the disaster shaped up, all the relevant bodies were pulled together fast to make quick, radical, effective decisions.

Instead, local authorities behaved in different ways without any overall co-ordination.

Clutched

No sharing happened, so that if local authority A had grit, it clutched that grit to its corporate bosom, even if its area wasn't frozen over, and didn't share any of it with local authority B.

No co-ordination happened. Drivers skating around for three hours on Dublin's Dame Street were mystified by the shortage of gardai, infuriated by Dublin Bus pulling its drivers so that abandoned buses formed a slalom course for other vehicles driven berserk by the lack of gritting.

The gardai, Dublin Bus and the local authorities probably all did what they were supposed to do, but not in concert. In some counties, the Army was used. In others, it wasn't.

Media got mad at Noel Dempsey for being on holidays, because it delivered the emotional satisfaction of identifying an individual to give out about.

But what he said, when he came back, was correct. His physical presence was irrelevant. Even if he hadn't had a wedding in the family and taken a few days off in Malta, he wouldn't have been out throwing handfuls of grit around.

The issue wasn't the lack of Noel Dempsey. The issue was lack of an emergency plan and the capacity to move like the military when the bad stuff hit the fan.

The issue was the damage done, not just to pipes and water supplies, but to livelihoods. I know of one restaurant that, having closed for the worst week, had two people, and only two people, as customers the entire first night they were back in business.

I know of hairdressers who sat, hour after hour, taking phone calls cancelling appointments.

None of that business is replaceable.

For them -- and for thousands of other small and medium businesses -- 2010 has started like a marathon runner shackled, at the starting line, to a concrete block.

Through sheer determination and drive, they may get to the finishing post, but they are grievously hampered by what happened in January.

Extreme

It can't happen again. Next time we have an extreme weather event we will expect that all the State bodies involved will talk to each other. Make quick decisions.

Take action. Co-operate. Communicate -- so we know, if they tell us we'll have water at four, that's when water will flow.

Crisp, well-planned reliable emergency reaction wouldn't just keep us clean and dry and safe in bad weather.

It would be a source of pride, too. Because we've run out of whatever tolerance we ever had for sloppy, slow, well-meaning ineffectiveness. It won't do. Ever again.


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