As United and Frontier Air Lines add new flights to one of the busiest airports in the country, Denver International Airport’s (DIA) management is confronting their failure to keep the facility on-line during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
The prolonged airport closure was a result of heavy snows very unusual for Denver, and part of a change in weather patterns experienced by the city this year.
According to the Associated Press, the airport was closed for forty-five hours starting on December 20, just as the busy Christmas travel period was beginning. More than two thousand flights were cancelled, and over 4700 passengers were stranded, some spending days there.
The city of Denver has also been facing snow removal problems, having insufficient plowing resources and strategy to keep the streets clear, and the city’s normal warm sun and cold nights have produced ice ruts so challenging that an experienced off-road enthusiast was asked to discuss driving strategies on a local news program.
While extremes of weather which are part of a normal cycle are usually within a region’s emergency response plan, weather changes such as hurricane Katrina and the Denver storms, as well as increased weather activity in other parts of the country and world, are causing self-examinations such as the one at DIA. This may become a factor as weather patterns change, and cities face whether to be proactive as the weather patterns shift, or examine their responses after major weather events occur.
According to the Denver Post, DIA’s consultant outlined key elements of a strategy to improve snow response, which are large investments in specialized equipment used at airports such as Toronto and Chicago, improved strategies to handle key areas of the airport with priority, and improved staffing and communication.
While the increase in equipment requires large capital investment, the other recommendations suggest that scalability and efficiency may be keys to weather responses as global conditions change, with airports and other public agencies being prepared to adjust their level of response rather than having a “business as usual” approach to the weather.
Whether the increased severity of weather events is a result of periodic changes in global phenomena such as “El Niño,” or part of longer term global trends, community responses to weather variations and events appears to be an area which needs to be increasingly dynamic, and with it budgets, personnel and capital expenditure issues which will make public financial planning a greater challenge. The DIA consultant report not only shows the Denver airport its areas of weakness, but offers a blueprint for municipal strategies in the years to come.