BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Erie County has released 50 pages of internal memos and reports related to the Christmas blizzard after News 4 filed a public records request.
According to one memo from the county’s Mental Health Department, of things that worked well, there was a good advance warning through news briefings and social media.
Of the things that didn’t work well: There should’ve been an earlier evacuation of personnel and more clarity was needed on essential personnel coming in. This memo also says that many people in the area did not take the warnings seriously.
The report also mentioned that while Erie County’s 716-858-SNOW line provided transportation to critical medical appointments, it provided no way for people to get home, so people transported were stuck.
The Mental Health Department says a master plan for plowing critical facilities is needed.
The county also received feedback from community organizations such as Horizon Health Services — where there were no overnight accommodations — suggesting that 24/7 facilities are registered with county emergency operations are able to be transported via snowmobile — the agency recommends that the county formally remove travel restrictions on health care workers during driving bans.
Best Self says that people were given tickets even though they were providing support when first responders were unable to do so. They said that a travel ban should have been implemented sooner and that in the storm’s aftermath, the clean up was not well-coordinated. Best Self also says there was a lack of preparation by the county and city to have support spread out.
WNY Independent Living Center says more independent contractors were needed to plow and be on stand-by and that officials should consider a system similar to Amber Alerts that would alert everyone about the dangers.
New York University has already released a blizzard study on the City of Buffalo’s response to the storm. The state has released a report as well.
Erie County’s Central Police Services did an after-action report which says during the Christmas storm, the 911 Communications Center handled approximately 29,000 calls/texts over four days. A sprinkler water line burst on the third floor which houses the 911 Communications Center, which caused potential catastrophic damage to the 911 servers. But staff members were able to get to a shut-off valve in the building.
The county’s Department of Public Works says not having enough food on hand was also an issue.
Another issue was to hire and dispatch mechanics to repair 12 abandoned fire trucks in the City of Buffalo. Due to the cold weather, the diesel in the trucks had gelled after they had to be abandoned in the blizzard. There’s also a mention that there was no coordination with DPW on needs from NYSDOT.
While managing the caseload of mass fatalities from the storm, the Medical Examiner handled five cases of children who died in a house fire, overdoses, traffic fatalities and any other cases falling under their jurisdiction.
The report also reads: “Hospitals were inflexible and complained that their morgues were out of space and they were overwhelmed. This was because of the inability of funeral homes to claim bodies during the storm, not necessarily because of storm-related deaths.”
The Erie County Attorney’s Office stated the following:
“The attached PDF is not every communication sent to the county executive regarding the blizzard, which no doubt, numbers in the thousands. Moreover, the attached PDF does not include communications between department heads or employees.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz addressed the release of the documents:
“We do have a process the process is the County Attorney’s Office reviews to ensure that there’s anything that has to be redacted usually for personnel purposes associated, lawsuits, there could be lawsuits but there’s no issues associated with what I believe there’s going to be very few redactions and they talk about specifics associated with personnel and that has a whole different process that under the law is redacted — everything else you’re going to get and you’re not going to find anything that you’ll find very sexy you’ll just find a lot of stuff about what happened during the event and suggestions for the future.”Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.