There are lots of ways to help keep your neighborhood safe during a storm, and speed recovery once it passes. From pitching in to clean up snow and ice to just staying off the roads or visiting neighbors, every little bit helps.

Photo by DVIDSHUB on Flickr.

On Wednesday, when we got our first (and much smaller!) wave of snow and ice, I watched a DC Circulator driver stop his bus and wait rather than drive on icy, untreated roads.  Doing so meant blocking a lane of 37th Street NW, but it also meant that he was not putting people using the street at risk.

That got me thinking about how we can all help care for our communities when bad weather hits. Local governments can’t do it all, especially during events as historic as what we just experienced. Here are some things you can do:

Move snow off the sidewalk

Clear snow and ice, starting with your sidewalk and nearby curb cuts. If you can, help your neighbors who may not be able to shovel. It’s particularly helpful to focus on areas that, when clear, make it a lot easier to get around, like entrances to crosswalks and bus stops. Also, dig out areas around fire hydrants so firefighters can get to them quickly if there’s an emergency, and around storm drains so melting snow doesn’t cause flooding.

Worth noting: When you shovel, don’t just shovel the snow away from your house and onto other parts of the sidewalk; the entire block needs to be clear! Also, if you have a car and you clear it out, don’t try and save the spot. No one owns the street.

Use the roads sparingly and responsibly

Plows have made many major roads driveable. But officials across the region need us to avoid driving if possible because there’s still tons of snow to move, and they don’t want response resources going toward stuck cars. The fewer cars that are on the road, the easier it is for both plows and emergency vehicles to do their jobs. Pedestrians can also help by not walking on the roads unless that’s the only option for getting anywhere.

Drivers who absolutely need to be on the road should clean the ice and snow off windows, lights and roofs. Check out traffic cameras and news reports to plan your route, and rely on snow emergency routes and major roads that are treated more often; drive extra carefully and give priority to snow plows and emergency vehicles; watch for pedestrians in crosswalks or potentially on the roadway in places where sidewalks have not been cleared.

Stay informed and share information

Keep up to date on the weather and snow recovery activities in your area and across the region. Government officials and utilities need help spreading the latest information, which is constantly changing. These are some of the local governments you can sign up to get text alerts from:

Radio, television, and news and government websites also work well for broadly applicable information, and neighborhood listservs and social media like Twitter provide more localized updates.

Regardless of where you get information, there’s no guarantee all your neighbors have seen the same updates. Make sure to share what you find both online and by word of mouth— it never hurts to knock on a neighbor’s door and tell them what’s up.

Report issues quickly and often

During and after storms, it’s critical to quickly report water line breaks, natural gas leaks, dripping fire hydrants, or electrical outages, but keep in mind that utility crews may take longer to respond than normal and that problems that are usually quick fixes can be more difficult. Call 311 or report issues online that require local government attention, including knocked over street signs, traffic light outages, potholes, or street and sidewalk repair. And remember, crews would rather hear about a problem multiple times than not at all.

High priority streets that serve as snow emergency routes are always the first to get plowed, with secondary and neighborhood streets taking a back seat. Here are a few area plow maps:

And here’s where you can report unplowed streets:

Visit your neighbors for help and companionship

Take a walk around your building or street to visit those who you haven’t seen out and about during the storm. Sometimes even a brief “check in” can make all the difference, both for some needed social interaction and for safety. Some people may not have been able to go out since the storm started, and a friendly visit can mean the world to them. Single parents or other caregivers who have been at home for days might appreciate and accept an offer for childcare or watching those for whom they care.

For safety’s sake, talk with people you see shoveling the snow, especially the elderly or those who don’t often perform difficult physical tasks. If they are having trouble breathing or look tired, suggest they need a break from shoveling. Even with the worst of the storm over, ask neighbors if their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work or if they want to have a free smoke detector installed. And check if they still have adequate supplies of batteries, water, food, and other safety essentials. It never hurts to ask if they have their list of emergency numbers to call, plus an easy way to contact a friend or relative for assistance.

Our actions and decisions make a big impact during and after a storm

Local governments continue to respond to and recover from the storm, but they can only reach one neighborhood at a time. We can all help speed up the pace by taking action in our community. And that can go a long way.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.