Erie County defends Disaster-LAN System for Snowvember storm

Posted at 7:18 PM, Dec 17, 2014
and last updated 2015-12-12 18:44:54-05

In the wake of the Snowvember Storm, some communities in Erie County have complained that the Disaster Local Area Network (also called D-LAN) failed to allocate resources properly during the State of Emergency.

D-LAN is an internet-based system created by Buffalo Computer Graphics in Blasdell. It first went online in 2002, and since 2008, has been used by Erie County to help manage community events that require the coordination of various public safety agencies.

The software program allows emergency managers to view a variety of information such as weather updates, road closures, and the availability of resources.

During the Snowvember storm, towns and villages in Erie County were able to submit online requests for help and equipment. Those requests were then viewable through computers at Erie County's Emergency Operations Center in Cheektowaga.

The benefit of the system is that it allows emergency operations personnel to use the system wherever there is a connection to the internet.

Erie County Commissioner of Emergency Services, Dan Neaverth, Jr, said during the Snowvember Storm, over 2,000 requests for help were entered into both Erie County's and New York State's D-LAN systems. Neaverth said officials are now trying to find ways of streamlining future requests, so that the county and state computer systems will share information without the need for duplicate entries.

Areas like Alden and Orchard Park complained the system failed to live up to expectations because expected equipment for dig out took days to arrive.

"The software worked.  We tracked the missions and they are there.  The reality of it is, when you have 1,000 tickets in the system, and they are all asking for the same resources at the same time, somebody is not going to get it," said Buffalo Computer Graphics program manager for D-LAN, Chris Zak.

"If it was a life-safety issue, resources were deployed instantly," added Neaverth. "Anybody who got six or seven feet of snow, you can't push that with a snow plow.  This was a snow removal event and finding 200 to 300 high-lifts, and the dump trucks that are required, takes a little bit of time."

Compounding the problem was that some trained staff were stuck at home and not available to help field calls and process requests. Commissioner Neaverth is now pushing to see more than just first responders trained to use the system for the future emergencies.

"You need to be able to tap into non-traditional first responders within your community, village, or town.  You need to be able to put them down and have them trained on Disaster-LAN, and on working the phones and taking calls," explained Commissioner Neaverth.

Because the D-LAN system tracks all reports for help, as well as expenses, officials expect it to be a great help in seeking reimbursement from FEMA.

Before D-LAN, emergency requests for help were handled by telephone using 'T'-shaped pieces of paper.

Officials emphasize that they are using feedback from the Snowvember Storm to map out new ways of more effectively using the D-LAN system in the future.

"It is an on-going process.  Nothing is perfect.  I don't think anybody anticipated seven feet of snow.  But I hope we can learn so that next time there is seven feet of snow - it is less impactful," commented Neaverth.