Amsterdam’s state of emergency reveals few glitches

The city of Amsterdam’s state of emergency proved to be helpful in terms of clearing the roadways

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The city of Amsterdam’s state of emergency proved to be helpful in terms of clearing the roadways but it caused some difficulties — in terms of cash — for about 40 residents who had their cars towed off the roads.

One official on Thursday said the state of emergency provides an opportunity to review procedures and find ways to improve the response — without waking up senior citizens who got scared when they received an automated phone call alerting them to the emergency late Tuesday night.

Mayor Ann Thane called a state of emergency effective at 9 p.m. Tuesday. It was to run through noon today but it was canceled effective 6 p.m. Thursday instead.

Amsterdam Public Works general foreman Ray Halgas said residents, for the most part, complied with parking restrictions and put their vehicles elsewhere, including the more than 20 parking lots throughout the city.

“It definitely made our jobs a lot easier,” Halgas said.

The department is responsible for clearing 80 miles of city streets, a task considered especially difficult in Amsterdam because of its topography.

“A little snow in Amsterdam is dangerous because it’s all hills,” Halgas said.

The emergency itself roused the ire of First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel, who received several phone calls from senior citizens appalled at having received a phone call just before midnight Tuesday.

City DPW crews were working with Amsterdam police and deputies from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department to get cars moved off the roads late Tuesday when officials decided to employ the emergency phone system.

The automated system called home phones between 11:30 p.m. and midnight to alert people of the state of emergency, and police said it helped get cars off the roads.

But it also woke some people up, Isabel said.

“The concern is you’re disturbing a lot of people,” Isabel said.

He said the decision to use the system should have been made for a “reasonable hour” such as by 9 p.m.

The emergency call system is one issue raised by the state of emergency.

Isabel said he believes the Montgomery County public works department could have been asked for assistance to plow the roads but they weren’t called.

“I want to find out why. It’s the only time we can call the county in to help, in the state of emergency,” Isabel said.

“We’re going to make it better for the next time. It gives us an opportunity to see what’s wrong with it,” Isabel said.

Amsterdam Deputy Police Chief Victor Hugo in an e-mail Thursday said owners who have their vehicles towed must pay an $80 charge for the tow if it takes place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or a $100 charge during other hours.

They are also issued a $20 citation, which increases to $30 if they don’t pick up their car within 24 hours, and increases to $40 if they don’t retrieve it within 48 hours.

According to an e-mail from Amsterdam Police Chief Thomas Brownell, towing is considered a last resort.

Police first try to call the registered owner of vehicles that need to be towed, then they drive down the street and sound their sirens or use their bullhorns to alert residents they need to move their cars and also knock on doors, Brownell said.“Towing is a last resort and is only used when all other attempts fail,” Brownell said.

Thane on Thursday said she believes the emergency shined light on a good system of cooperation.

“I’m very pleased with the way the emergency was handled and the cooperation of the DPW and the Police Department and the residents was just terrific,” Thane said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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