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Buffalo Common Council approves emergency manager, fleet director positions as city releases blizzard report

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Posted at 4:54 PM, Feb 07, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — On Tuesday the Buffalo Common Council met and approved two new positions, emergency manager and fleet director, in response to the blizzard and other difficult events over the last year.

In early January, Fillmore District Councilmember Mitch Nowakowski called for an inquiry into the city's emergency response to the Blizzard of '22 and called on the administration to hire an emergency manager. Nowakowski pointed out that Hamburg and Amherst both have full-time Emergency Manager positions, but the City of Buffalo did not.

“The need for an Emergency Coordination/Homeland Security position is critical to move forward after a series of emergencies, which include a pandemic, a mass shooting, a deadly blizzard and other emergencies. I am proud of this Council for advocating for this position and want to thank the public for their input and advocacy.”
- Councilmember Nowakowski
“An Emergency Management Coordinator is essential during rapidly evolving emergency situations. In addition to coordinating response efforts to an unexpected crisis, this person will create mitigation plans, develop and administer training, and pursue funding. By establishing this position, we will be better prepared for any situation which may arise in the City of Buffalo.”
- South District Council Member Christopher Scanlon

In addition, also in early January, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced the new position of fleet director.

"The Fleet Director will be an exempt appointment to spearhead Buffalo’s preparation for regular city maintenance as well as emergency situations. This will include performing a full inventory of all equipment, across departments, including existing purchases of equipment in production. Also, the Fleet Director will review and assess new advances in technology, in order to build a robust line-up of supplies within the City of Buffalo."
- Mayor Brown

Just before the common council meeting in which these positions were approved, the city released its report on the Blizzard of '22.

City of Buffalo report on the Blizzard of '22

According to the report, blizzard conditions were recorded at 8:40 a.m. on December 23. Blizzard Criteria were met at 11:40 a.m. and continued for 37 hours until 9:54 p.m. on December 24. A total of 51.9 inches of snow fell.

The report states that the mayor began storm preparation talks the week before the storm during several preparedness meetings. It continues on to say the mayor led planning calls each day, multiple times a day, leading up to the storm and once the storm began.

"As part of these calls, public messaging was decided upon and posted, to inform residents of closures, available resources, and all other storm related information. This communication and coordination did not cease for over a week, until the storm and clean-up ended at end of day Friday, December 30," the report states.

A timeline of the City of Buffalo’s DPW operations was also provided in the report. The report said the mayor directed DPW, BPD, BFD, and all partners to prioritize and divide operations into two response plans:

  • Life and Safety — December 23 through December 26
  • Snow Clearing — December 26 through December 30

The report says during the Life and Safety period, DPW assigned high lifts to BPD and BFD to run the following missions:

  • Rescue missions for Fire Department and Police Department
  • Emergency power restoration for National Grid operations
  • Hospital clearing, including at the Buffalo General Medical Campus and Erie County Medical Center
  • Communications operations for Charter/Spectrum to maintain citywide communications
  • FeedMore WNY

December 23

  • Began pre-salting at 5 a.m. with 23 spreaders on the road by 7 a.m. salting primary and secondary streets. At least 2,000 tons of salt were used. Just before 8 a.m. temperatures dropped below freezing and the rain turned to snow.
  • By 9:30 a.m. blizzard conditions began and the expressways, thruways, and skyway were closed. Snowplowing conditions existed and snowplows began their routes. The state assisted on north Erie routes by 11 a.m. DPW shifted its focus to plowing evacuation and access routes up until 3 p.m. when whiteout conditions began in the city.
  • The overnight shift was dedicated to continuing to work with fire and police and rescuing DPW crew stranded in plow trucks. At this time, all high lift plows were converted to bucket high lifts due to the height of the snow.

December 24

  • By 7 a.m. DPW worked in teams of three snowplows to clear the evacuation routes while dealing with whiteout conditions.
  • The effort above continued through the afternoon, in addition to attempts to send teams of equipment to open primary streets. Other equipment also remained paired with fire and police.
  • During the overnight shift into Christmas Day, DPW deployed equipment to open streets for National Grid, in order to help restore power in various locations. At this point, the City of Buffalo had the highest number of customers without power of any municipality in the storm.

December 25

  • By 7 a.m. DPW teams continued down primary streets to connect National Grid repair equipment to their damaged substations throughout the city. Two private contractors retained by DPW were provided to work directly with National Grid, as well as additional private contractors on other city routes.
  • By 3 p.m. DPW sent four teams of multiple pieces of equipment to primary streets, including the medical corridor.
  • By 10 p.m. blizzard conditions ended and the city was under an active and ongoing Winter Storm Warning.

December 26

  • As the whiteouts ended, DPW teams worked through the night to continue search and rescue clearing missions, coupled with BPD and BFD crews, as well as clearing paths for National Grid equipment, all while still working on removing snow from the main arteries.
  • The Snow Clearing period began, which was a coordinated effort including:
    • City-hired private contractors, which were focused across the city while still engaged in the life safety missions
    • State resources
    • State-hired private resources
    • County-hired private resources, which operated entirely in South Buffalo

Over 600 pieces of equipment were on city roads at one point. Within two days each street in the city had a first pass. The driving ban was lifted at 12:01 a.m. on December 29.

After the storm, as of January 6, 24 of the city's 41 plow trucks were ready for active service. The other 17 plow trucks were undergoing repair and fixes that the report said would take between one week and one month. Of the city's 19 high-lifts, 10 were under repair and the report said it would take a couple of weeks.

According to the report, the Division of Parking Enforcement towed a total of 324 vehicles with the assistance of five contractors at a cost of $47,460. The Division of Parks and Recreation completely removed 363 trees and within city parks an additional 68 trees required removal.

The report also details the Buffalo Police Department's efforts throughout the blizzard and the days after. From December 23 to December 31, BPD received 1,270 stranded motorist calls, 217 abandoned vehicle calls, and 49 rescue calls. 65 individuals were rescued. Other calls included 1,315 welfare check calls and 91 calls reporting a death. According to the report of all the calls received, nearly 85% were placed between December 23 and December 27.

The department also assisted the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office in recovering bodies. The report says 52 bodies were recovered who died either by storm-related reasons or natural deaths. As of January 19, 35 storm-related deaths have been reported in the city.

Buffalo police also established an Anti-Looting Task Force to respond to individuals who broke into 77 local stores "to steal luxury and unnecessary items."

"This looting was not to survive the storm, prevent starvation, or out of desperation, instead it was destructive and fueled by greed. BPD resources had to shift to deter and arrest individuals who stole televisions, couches, sneakers, designer clothing, dry cleaning, video games, and other electronics," the report states.

22 arrests have been made with the following charges:

  • Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, Class C violent felony
  • Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, Class D violent felony
  • Burglary in the Third Degree, Class D felony
  • Menacing in the Second Degree, Class A misdemeanor
  • Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree, Class A misdemeanor
  • Attempted Petit Larceny, Class B misdemeanor
  • Criminal Trespass in the Third Degree, Class B misdemeanor

According to the report, the Aldi on Broadway lost close to $500,000 due to thefts and vandalism.

The report also goes on to detail the Buffalo Fire Department's efforts. Firefighters worked to respond to fires, rescues and other needs while also dealing with fire apparatus becoming frozen and inoperable.

The city's 311 line received 4,699 calls and 1,615 messages. The report says all messages were handled.

The blizzard cost the city over $10 million according to the report. That total continues to grow and includes damage to city-owned or operated buildings, fleet vehicles, and other city property; contractors for snow removal and pickup; tow company costs; and additional expenses which are listed below:

  • Snow removal-related contractors: $2,987,000
  • Damage to city owned/operated buildings: $1,107,428
  • Damage to city street property: $97,562
  • Damage to city vehicles: $175,000
  • Damage to city equipment and repair cost: $276,184
  • City-wide fuel usage: $43,560
  • Towing contractors: $62,991
  • Overall overtime: $1,761,898
    • BFD: $876,852
    • BPD: $518,707
    • DPW: $343,832
    • Parking Division: $13,882
    • Citizen Services: $5,453
    • Community Services: $3,152
  • Road salt costs: $91,896
  • Damage to Naval Park: $3,452,500
  • Damage to Buffalo Zoo: $125,000

The city has requested that NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service conduct an external review of the storm response. This report is expected in March 2023.