Gilbert and Dolores Hughes walking on Griffith Avenue in Dublin yesterday

Last week's scenes of gridlock in Dublin and elsewhere threw into sharp focus once again how difficult it can be for a country of Ire­land's size to cope with unusually severe weather events.

But as local authorities around the state desperately battled to preserve their stocks of salt to grit major roads, amid claims gardaí may even be forced to close a number of major roads as supplies begin to run out – what more could have been done to prepare us for such an event?

And to what extent is this dependent upon the investment of increasingly scarce financial resources in the necessary infrastructure to keep Ireland moving?

In her role as director of DCU's MSc in Emergency Management, Dr Caroline McMullan has been directly involved in training people from all walks of life on how best to cope in the event of an emergency.

McMullan, who is also chairwoman of the Irish branch of the Emergency Planning Society, argues that on a national level, standards of emergency planning and coordination in Ireland have never been better.

McMullan acknowledges, however, that commuters and homeowners stuck in traffic last week, or the elderly confined to their homes due to the recent weather, may find such an assertion hard to believe.

And although a revised emergency management framework has been implemented since September, she is concerned that the resources needed to ensure it continues to develop are beginning to lag behind at a time when budgets are under pressure nationally.

She believes such investment should include funding for equipment such as snow ploughs and increased stocks of salt to ensure we always have sufficient stocks to grit roads where a situation of prolonged severe weather occurs.

It could also involve the prioritisation of various transport routes across the country to ensure the most important routes are opened first.

All of these measures, which could see expensive machinery effectively sitting idle for years at a time just to have them ready for an extreme event, require significant funding. But it is money she says would be well spent.

"You are balancing up where to spend public money. Do you spend money on something that we absolutely need today, or something we may need down the line?" she asks.

"I would always say you need this resilience... don't underestimate the cost when you have a cold spell, for example, the amount of money lost when you shut airports and people are not getting to work."

Conor Faughnan, public affairs manager with AA Ireland, agrees there has been progress in recent years, and cites the introduction of the NRA's Ice Cast monitoring system, which allows local authorities around the country to predict ice levels on roads, as a key development.

He also has some sympathy with local authorities and acknowledges it is easy to say in hindsight that we should have had more grit.

But he says their response to date has nevertheless been "imperfect" and suggests some authorities may have been slow to allocate money to the problem from ever tightening budgets.

"The notion of cost to the local authority should never have been a feature in this. They are trying to operate a "loaves and fishes" approach to this. For example, if they deploy resources to gritting, will it have to come out of their budget to deal with the aftermath of flooding?" he says.

"Local authorities, generally speaking, jealously preserve their own authority. They want to be autonomous and centralised control is anathema to that."

He also believes there should be far more consideration given to how other resources, such as volunteers and even the army, can be encouraged to swing into action in the event of an emergency situation.

"There is a need for more creativity, to look at the resources we can lay our hands on... there has to be more to combatting a cold snap like this than local authorities and their gritting trucks," he says.

Last week also saw severe delays at airports around the country.

Ireland's airports could in fact seek to limit such delays by paying for veritable "armies" of snow ploughs – even if they were to be parked and do nothing for most of the year – and heated runways to prevent ice forming.

But aviation expert David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International magazine, says such investment will simply not happen.

He argues that even airports such as those on the east coast of the USA, which get serious amounts of snow, simply accept there will be massive temporary disruption when this occurs.

"It is just the price of living on planet earth. They could overinvest and have masses of heavy equipment sitting around," he says. "But they don't, and I believe rightly so. It is a deliberate choice to accept disruption because avoiding it costs more than the cost of the disruption itself. The people who would pay would be the passengers."