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Buffalo Common Council member calls for inquiry on city's emergency response during blizzard

Posted at 11:30 AM, Jan 06, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Fillmore District Council Member Mitch Nowakowski has called on Mayor Byron Brown and the Buffalo Common Council to create a panel and hire an emergency manager for the City of Buffalo following the recent blizzard that took more than 40 lives.

"If we've learned anything from this it's really that we need a coordinated response on every level of government, especially from city, state and federal," Nowakowski said.

An emergency manager is responsible for the preparedness against natural disasters and accidents. They develop plans, coordinate with organizations, and provide information and assistance to communities. According to Nowakowski, Hamburg and Amherst are equipped with full-time emergency managers, but the City of Buffalo is not.

"We've seen throughout, unfortunately, this year a mass shooting a severe storm, and now a deadly blizzard. We really need to have a strong emergency response in the City of Buffalo," Nowakowski added.

“Our first responders and essential workforce worked tirelessly to address the needs of our residents, and we all continue to commend their work and dedication. However, there were clear deficiencies in the emergency response to the December 2022 Blizzard that need to be immediately addressed. It is incumbent on the Buffalo Common Council to conduct an inquiry into the administrative management of the storm, address the public’s concerns, and ensure that Buffalo learns from this experience and is fully equipped to address emergency situations like this in the future."
- Fillmore District Council Member Mitch Nowakowski

"I was sitting at my kitchen table coordinating state county federal resources to be deployed in that area and I did that as a Councilmember so that really showed me that we really need a centralized coordinator who has that expertise," Nowakowski explained.

Nowakowski is also joining Council Member Chris Scanlon in a push for an emergency manager position.

"I think we need to have things a little more streamlined and kind of have that manager at the helm," Scanlon said, "I think creating this position would help us prevent operating silos, things of that nature, and make sure everyone's on the same page centralized around one managing figure."

Council Member Nowakowski submitted a letter to the city containing questions and concerns from residents, first responders, and emergency response professionals. The main topics include:

  • Exploring an emergency manager position
  • Establishing an emergency operation center
  • Warming shelter operations
  • Strengthening the City Snow Plan
  • Available emergency services
  • The 311 Call and Resolution Center
  • Strengthening coordination with county, state, and federal officials
  • Employing training and policy for emergency situations
  • Addressing equipment, staffing, and budgetary needs

On January 3, Mayor Brown proposed a new role of Fleet Director to his administration. The director would spearhead preparation for regular city maintenance as well as emergency situations.

A city spokesperson released the following statement to 7 News reporter Kristen Mirand regarding emergency managers versus fleet directors:

I would be open to both positions, although we currently have a system for managing emergencies. I do think fleet management is the most immediate need.

Still, both council members say change is needed so the city can be better prepared.

"When a disaster strikes Western New York how do we all respond? Because if we can all respond in a coordinated effort we're stronger for it and we can save more lives," Nowakowski said.