BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown believes the city is in a better place this year when it comes to winter readiness.
Following a series of meetings of a blizzard task force designed to analyze what went right and wrong in Buffalo’s response to the December 2022 snowstorm, Brown shared the resulting recommendations in a conference Thursday morning.
The costly storm resulted in dozens of deaths across Erie and Niagara counties, surpassing the infamous Blizzard of ’77. Brown says the city expended $10 million on the December storm and another $4 million on its predecessor in November.
Also referred to as “Winter Storm Elliott,” the December storm started two days before Christmas, with blizzard conditions lasting 37 hours.
Equipment was a big focus of the city’s efforts to improve its storm response. During the conference, Brown announced that the city’s Department of Public Works has acquired six additional plows on loan from the New York State Thruway Authority. The city is expecting four other new plows to arrive by the end of the year.
As snow packed onto the roads, highways and smaller routes alike were rendered useless for driving in the average vehicle, with the city receiving criticism over its handling of the streets and the travel ban. Brown says that during the storm, snowmobiles proved to be beneficial, leading to the acquisition of more of them.
The Buffalo Fire Department has been provided with five snowmobiles, courtesy of Delaware North. Additionally, he says they’ll get four urban-terrain vehicles by mid-to-late November. They’ll be used to perform emergency tasks, like delivering items to firehouses.
In each of the city’s nine council districts, Brown says there will be at least one open emergency shelter in the event of a heavy storm like what we experienced last year. The city is planning to utilize community centers and use blue lights to indicate places of safety.
The shelters will have generators in order to ensure the provision of electricity and heat.
“It is our hope that people who do not have to be out in storm situations are not out,” Brown said.
Since the storm, Brown says that communication between different levels of agencies has been more consistent, and they’re planning to improve communication with city residents about potentially deadly events, too.
The city will now participate in IPAWS, which stands for Integrated Public Alert & Warning System. It operates like an AMBER alert, Brown says, sending push notifications to peoples’ phones, warning them of potentially life-threatening weather.
Public service announcements are also in the plans. The city will begin airing them on Spectrum channels in western New York starting December 1. Brown says he wants people to take these situations seriously, so they will use terms like “life-threatening” when the situation warrants it.
Digital messaging will also be present on boards throughout the city, Brown says.
The task force that looked at Buffalo’s response and preparedness met over several months, with Thursday being the fifth meeting. Brown says plans for additional weather safety measures will be added in the weeks and months ahead.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the city was seeking someone to oversee city vehicles. Brown says they haven’t found the right person for this yet, but more interviews are scheduled. The situation is the same in the search for an emergency manager for the city.
This past June, a report from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service’s Rudin Center for Transportation recommended a number of the changes the city announced Thursday. The school was tasked by the City of Buffalo to look into it, at no cost to city taxpayers.
A separate, independent review completed by New York’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services said the December storm was the “longest blizzard in [the] history of [the] United States below 5,000 feet of elevation.”
The results of that review were revealed in August, with Erie County announcing, in the weeks that followed, the changes it wishes to make regarding storm response. Like Buffalo, the county said equipment purchases and communication improvements were part of their plan.