THE Weather outside is dreadful … and so is Scotland’s response to it

I’M writing this column from the world-famous Cheers bar in Boston, Massachusetts, where everyone knows your name.  Forgive the blatant name-drop, it’s not pretentiousness on my part, it just happens to be the only place in Boston that’s open apart from the hospitals, and I’d much rather an ice cold pint of Bud than a visit to the ER especially now that George Clooney has left.

I’m watching the local Boston news network, on which the city Mayor has just announced a State of Emergency. I expected riots or gang warfare or drive by shootings to be the cause. But no. It’s the weather. It’s going to snow. A lot, they tell us.

To be fair, it’s been promising snow since I arrived here on Friday night. The grumpy immigration official (that has to be the sole criteria for securing a job in immigration, I think) grunted that we could expect a little snow on Monday and from that point on every news channel, every bartender, every taxi driver has been talking about the real big storm heading our way and warning that I should stay in my hotel.

They have a channel over here devoted entirely to the weather but you could be fooled for thinking that there were actually 101 channels. On Sunday afternoon, all channels started broadcasting the list of schools that would be closed the next day. On Monday morning, the Mayor announced a State of Emergency and told all non-essential state workers to go home and stay there.  All this with barely an inch of snow on the ground.

Overnight all that changed. Now that the snowstorm has arrived, the talk is that this storm will bring blizzards the like of which have not been seen since 1978 when 17 people were killed. Three feet of snow and more, plus winds up to 70 mph are predicted and the entire eastern seaboard is battening down the hatches in preparation.

Shops everywhere are closed and the Cheers bartender has just told us that the only places open in Boston are the hospitals and his bar. Airlines are warning of cancelled flights. Airports are being closed as I write this column. There’s a real doubt that I’ll make it home this week. It would be a shame if I were snowed in at Cheers. How would I cope?

But seriously, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The Americans have learned their lessons from deaths, power outages, accidents and disruptions the inclement weather has brought in the past and they are taking no chances.

I have to say I’m really impressed with the way in which Boston, New York and the like are systemically, quickly and efficiently closing down their cities and protecting their residents. Unlike in Scotland, where everything just grinds slowly and dangerously to a chaotic halt.

We’re not very good at handling the weather back home. It’s not that we’re not used to it. We get a lot of bad weather. And it’s not just that we can’t cope with it, we can’t even forecast it right. And even when we do, business sits back and waits for the meteorologists to be proved right before they do anything about it.

Look at our performance in response to the weather. Our last big snow fall (not the most recent one) Glasgow Airport was shut for nine hours while they cleared a foot of snow from the runway. Nine hours. Last week’s snow brought chaos to the motorways – a friend of mine was stuck on the M8 near Harthill all day: the snowploughs couldn’t get through! Across Scotland business was disrupted, the transport network was disrupted, people couldn’t – wouldn’t? – get their cars out of their driveways. The country ground to a halt.

So far we’ve had about 18 inches of snowfall in Boston and it shows no sign of stopping. But the roads are clear, everywhere you look there are snowploughs keeping the thoroughfares safe. Twenty-four hours before the first flake fell, cars were being towed from main roads to ensure a clear run for the ploughs. The streets are manned by city employees in bright yellow suits, braving the elements and brandishing great rubber shovels to keep the pavements clear.

Businesses and shops are closed with ample warnings to customers, minimising disruption. Parents are notified well in advance of school closures. State employees are told to stay home, minimising the risk of traffic accidents and congestion.

It’s impressive. But it’s simple. So why can’t we do it?

This article was first published “almost” 10 years ago, but what disappointed me is the lack of progress a decade on. Ten years ago Glasgow Airport was shut. This week, it was Edinburgh. The only significant change is the 24 hours news coverage, albeit that’s only ‘cos England got a light dusting of snow at the same time.

Business can’t wait for the local council or the government to plan for adverse weather conditions, we should all have a plan for it; one that includes round robin calls/emails/texts/tweets to employees to suggest they work from home, the technology in employees’ homes to allow them to work as if from the office, the information security protocols in place to ensure all company data is safe whether at home or in transit, and trust in the people we have chosen to work with us that we allow them the flexibility to continue at home what they started in the office.

What do you think?