As he was beginning a meeting with business leaders to discuss his proposed economic stimulus package, President Obama observed that his daughters were surprised to see their school (Sidwell Friends) was cancelled today on account of the weather.

As chronicled in the Shenanigans column of Politico:

Before meeting with business leaders this morning, President Obama made a little side remark about how his girls’ school was closed today “because of–what? Some ice?”

“As my children pointed out, in Chicago school is never canceled,” Obama said to laughter. “In fact my seven-year-old pointed out that you’d go outside for recess. You wouldn’t even stay indoors. So, it’s–I don’t know, we’re going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness.”

“Are you saying these guys are wimps?” a reporter asked the prez.

“I’m saying that when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don’t seem to be able to handle things,” Obama clarified.

The President has again shown his adeptness as a communicator, but if a new era is indeed in Washington it would have been better for him to state the obvious about the DC area – we’re wimps.

Resilient we are not.  At the first hint of a bad weather forecast, thousands of DC area residents go into meltdown-mode, rushing to the grocery stores clamoring for bread, milk, eggs and toilet paper.

What are you going to do folks?  Have French Toast and go to the bathroom all day?

As a 20-plus year resident of Virginia, I have had more than my share of laughing fits at the behavior seen in the Nation’s Capital in response to winter weather.

Miniscule snow amounts, mere dustings and even forecasts of flurries send adrenaline rushes of panic coursing through the area.  Rampant school cancellations and semi-hysteric local media coverage (“Winter Storm Team coverage beginning at 4AM,” etc.) always make it appear that the four horseman of the Apocalypse have been sighted on the inner loop of the Beltway and are headed for each of our individual homes.

Maybe the region’s excessively cautious behavior has to do with the fact we have so many attorneys in the area that no one wants to risk getting sued.

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I was fortunate to see and learn firsthand how deal with winter weather; drive in it and go about regular life when it occurs.  I’m not alone in those abilities either. My wife and many of our friends, neighbors and colleagues who grew up in other places that experienced far more extreme winter weather acquired the same set of skills.

While many of us who are not native to the Washington area laugh at the “wussiness” of the region when it comes to winter weather (or any other weather pattern that comes this way), the time is well past for our national, state, regional and local leaders to point to this area’s wimpy behavior when it comes to teaching us about our own readiness and resilience.

Last year (February 12, 2008) when an ice storm brought the entire region to a literal stop
would have been a great opportunity for elected and public safety leaders to have asked the DC area citizens to put into action “Shelter in Place” and other preparedness plans.  By doing so, it would have allowed roads and bridges to be treated and made safe for traffic.  Instead, the region – almost on Pavlovian – cue went into panic, jumped in their cars to compound the traffic gridlock and making an already challenging weather and traffic situation even worse.

There have been some analyses and lessons learned as a result of last year’s ice storm and how we should respond to it, but in watching the coverage and email bulletins of the winter weather this week, I continue to shake my head in wonder and laugh at the simple lessons and heartiness that this region still has yet to learn.

I hope that next time, our new President won’t be as diplomatic in his assessment of the region when his girls and other kids don’t have school just because of a little snow and ice.. He should call like a lot of us see it, “We’re wimps.”

And if we’re wimps when it comes to dealing with Mother Nature’s brief winter visits to this area, what are we going to be like when something really bad occurs?

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More