BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services finished its independent review of the state’s response to the Christmas blizzard.

“Simply put, this storm was a mountain-top blizzard over a major American city at sea level – something we have never seen before,” NYS Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said. “Our number one job is to keep New Yorkers safe and with climate change continuing to cause unprecedented extreme weather, it was critical we study this response and find ways to further strengthen the state’s emergency operations. We thank Guidehouse for their work on this important review and look forward to implementing its recommendations.”

The review of the blizzard, which the state says was the “longest blizzard in [the] history of [the] United States below 5,000 feet of elevation,” includes 12 recommendations, centering on coordination, capacity, communications and technology:


  • Grow the subscriber base for NY-Alert
  • Ensure the risks associated with weather events are clearly communicated
  • Communicate government actions consistently with all partners


  • Ensure the universal use of a single emergency response software for incident management in NYS
  • Standardize local operations by enhancing trainings for New York Responds, including more in-person trainings
  • Create shorter user-friendly desk guides to supplement existing instructional documentation on the use of New York Responds


  • Enhance the County Emergency Preparedness Assessment to assist in understanding local capacity
  • Encourage counties to seek Local Emergency Management accreditation
  • Develop a shared vision of roles and responsibilities for emergency management with local partners


  • Draft a blizzard-specific annex for the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan to establish a consistent approach and expectation
  • Conduct additional routine tabletop exercises designed to address unique regional risks and include local participation
  • Consider staffing adjustments in the State Emergency Operations Center to close information gaps

MORE | Read the full review of the blizzard response here.

These findings follow the results of a review led by the New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

That study looked into and made recommendations for the City of Buffalo’s efforts, which were highly criticized due to the state of the streets and handling of the travel ban. It came at no cost to city taxpayers.

The storm, which resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people in Erie and Niagara counties, covered the region in heavy snow, with the Buffalo airport reaching a peak of more than 51 inches. Also referred to as “Winter Storm Elliott,” it started on December 23, with blizzard conditions lasting 37 hours.

A spokesperson for the city of Buffalo released the following statement based on the review: “The Mayor is aware the State’s After Action Report for the response to the December Blizzard is completed.  City staff participated in the process as requested and we are currently reviewing the document. As previously announced, the City has established a Storm Response Task Force and has already purchased new equipment and adopted new storm-fighting procedures.” 

The county’s response: Erie County will be incorporating any relevant findings into our very active winter storm preparation process that is already well underway.”

Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.