NYU Report shares how City of Buffalo can learn from Christmas Blizzard
By Kristen Mirand,2023-06-02
A recently released report from New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service shares lessons that the City of Buffalo can learn from the deadly Christmas Blizzard.
Following the blizzard, Mayor Byron Brown asked NYU to conduct a review of how the administration handled the blizzard at no cost to the city.
The report highlights how the storm "had serious adverse effects on the city’s infrastructure, businesses, and residents."
NYU's research focused on four categories:
The following key priorities emerged from the reports:
- The city's emergency vehicle fleet, storage capabilities and warming center did not meet the demands in order to respond to a once-in-a-generation storm
- Approximately 20,000 customers and key City of Buffalo facilities were without power, some for up to four days
- Many people were uninformed despite stay-at-home orders and travel bans. The report said the city relieved heavily on television and radio announcements and that not enough residents had enrolled in the text message alert system
- The report also highlighted existing equity issues. The blizzard's impact was felt the hardest in neighborhoods where there are economic hardships and limited resources. Out of the 31 neighbors we lost in the blizzard, 20 were people of color
Communication was noted as a failure for the city. The report recommends the city communicate early and frequently and provide updates regularly. It notes that storm warnings began later and residents did not have enough time to prepare for the storm. The public messaging did not fully address questions or concerns from residents as well.
On Friday afternoon, Brown said at a press conference that he is creating a task force with 20 people from the city, county and state. He said the city is still looking to fill the fleet manager and emergency operations manager roles.
"We want to make sure that we are pushing out massive amounts of information to ensure the safety of the community," he said.
Another note highlights how the city did not have enough resources to mitigate the effects of the blizzard. "This impaired its response to the storm," the report noted. It stated that there were 41 plow trucks and 19 high lifts in the Buffalo Department of Public Works which was insufficient for handling the storm's size.
Interviews with the Buffalo Police and Fire Departments implied that there were not enough snowmobiles or other vehicles to move through the snow effectively. The mayor said the city is purchasing new snow-fighting equipment for fire, police, and public works. Some of the 14 purchased pieces of equipment should arrive by October, according to the city.
"There's gonna be some takeaways and some lessons learned from this and we know this was coming and we're ready to incorporate all those changes moving forward," Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said.
One of the few positive notes in the report highlights the heroic efforts made by both the police and fire departments.
"We wish that we could've saved lives, we wish that we could've saved all the lives but we know that we saved other lives and I'm very proud of the work that the members of our department did," Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said.
You can find the full report here.