New York is in the path of a blizzard, forecast to arrive this weekend. While you're out making snow angels, one woman will be making sure your street is clear.
The woman responsible for tracking plows down city streets didn't plan to work at the Department of Sanitation.
Shari Pardini was working in fashion retail as an assistant buyer, and wanted her boyfriend, now-husband, to take the sanitation test. "Everyone seemed to want the job back then," Pardini says.
To encourage him, she volunteered to take the test, too. They both passed, but there were so many applicants that the city used a lottery to hire candidates. Pardini got called, and her husband didn't. She's been with the department for 22 years, and is now head of the operations management division and the highest-ranking uniformed woman in the department's history.
Then as now there were few women on the job (today there are around 200), and Pardini remembers people being surprised to see her. She says that once, during a snowstorm, her own sister caught sight of her on duty, as she spread salt and plowed a street in Queens. "I couldn't believe it, you were driving the truck," she remembers her sister saying.
Waltz of the snowplows
The ritual came a little late this winter, but the first big snowstorm of the season is now speeding its hypothetical way to the five boroughs. With a blizzard watch and hazardous travel advisory in effect, in addition to 579 salt spreaders, nearly 1,800 plows, and 303,000 tons of rock salt on hand, the city wants to make very clear that it's prepared for nature's worst.
But the preparations turn to action under Pardini's watch in a lower Manhattan control, room which jumps to life as blizzards bear down.
The room allows Pardini to be the department's "eye in the sky."
The walls are lined with screens showing the location of DSNY's fleet in real time, as well as cameras showing real-time conditions across the city, on key boulevards and highways.
The high technology allows for crisis control when the vehicles need to divert from their carefully laid-out routes. Last winter, the department began implementing a new "sectoring" system through which trucks were responsible for small areas of contiguous plowing — operating almost in "concentric circles," says Pardini, instead of the older, more linear routes. This allows for more efficient work.
The hyper-connected command center also processes 311 complaints, alerting Pardini and her colleagues to trouble spots as the snow falls.
The politics of snow
A lackluster cleanup can have consequences, particularly for mayors — from John Lindsay's career being buried in Queens to Michael Bloomberg's Boxing Day blizzard, when the mayor was criticized for his slow response. ("A devastating storm," says Pardini, "the worst that I'd seen.")
Mayor Bill de Blasio's first mini-crisis was snow-related.
In 2014, New Yorkers checking the snowplows' progress on PlowNYC, a website connected to the trucks' GPS coordinates, noticed that the Upper East Side wasn't being plowed as quickly as the rest of the city.
Naysayers claimed it was "retribution" from a populist mayor; de Blasio said that was nonsense and originally pointed to a malfunctioning GPS transmitter. He later said the snow removal had in fact been too slow there.
Pardini was on duty that night and scoffs at the notion of political snow buildup.
Perhaps this year the storm will be painless for politicians and voters alike.
"Mother Nature is unpredictable," Pardini says. The only option is better preparation. "It's a make or break."
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers.