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NYU to evaluate Buffalo’s blizzard response after storm dies down 39

by Ana Lopez
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After a snowstorm in New York’s Erie County killed 39 people, Buffalo Mayor Bryon Brown declared New York University a “post-action study” on the region’s response to the disaster. Brown claims New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service will analyze Buffalo’s storm planning, response and cleanup to provide useful input for other major cities.

“The City of Buffalo is committed to learning from this storm and making additional improvements in how we respond to future extreme winter snow storms,” Brown wrote in a statement. At least 39 people were killed by the snowfall, which also caused widespread power outages and forced many to stay indoors for more than a week.

At a press conference on December 24, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz noted:“There is no guarantee that they will be able to respond immediately in a life-threatening emergency.” He also claimed that the hardest hit neighborhoods will have no emergency services at all.

Nyu evaluates Buffalo's blizzard response after the storm dies down 39
Nyu evaluates Buffalo’s blizzard response after the storm dies down 39

Two-thirds of the emergency vehicles were unable to move during the briefing because of the snow. Many Buffaloes were left to fend for themselves when the New York National Guard, including the military police, arrived to assist in recovery operations. Tayron Knight, a resident of Buffalo, commented: “No one would come” when asked about his ordeal on Niagara Falls Boulevard. I contacted the police many times and each time they told me they couldn’t help because they were too busy.

Eddie Porter, another resident, described his 28-hour ordeal of being stranded on the highway by the storm. He said the police ignored his calls. He said he contacted police on Dec. 23 and didn’t get a reply until Dec. 29. I truly believed it was over as it should have been; Have you ever had the terrifying realization that you are about to die and there is nothing you can do to prevent it? Porter tearfully asked in one ABC news interview.

William Kless, a local homeowner, spent days on his snowmobile rescuing an estimated fifty people, including Porter, whom police ultimately decided not to save. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what I would have done,” Porter said. Kless told ABC News that after being stuck in his car for 17 hours, eventually, he helped neighbors get to shelters, carry animals, transport supplies, and even get a man to vital dialysis treatments.

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Kless claimed that he found out about community needs by going door to door and talking to peopleusing social media and contacting the police. “There were so many calls that emergency services were canceled, you know, so many people have been left helpless, not realizing when they can get help,” Kless said. Kless also said he coordinated with the Buffalo Police Department when they couldn’t reach a location in a vehicle.

“It was like a search and rescue,” he said. “Buffalo police were involved because they couldn’t take to the streets.” As Poloncarz noted at a press conference on Dec. 24, the snowmobile shortage and resulting reliance on conventional emergency response vehicles and National Guard Humvees made it difficult for the county, city and state to respond effectively.

After being rescued by a friend, Knight began helping other people in need of rescue when authorities were not around. “We started helping everyone in the city of Buffalo, as many people as possible,” said Knight. “We hung up our numbers, so if someone was trapped, out of power, or in dire need of an emergency, [if] they needed help that got no help from the city of buffalo they could call us.

Knight estimated that they received hundreds of calls, forcing them to prioritize how to respond. Kless, Knight, and Porter all pointed to problems with the city’s response after reflecting on their own storm experiences. “We saw no paramedics, no police, firefighters, no emergency response teams at all.” Kless said. “It was literally they didn’t come out until about the day after after the storm and everything had calmed down.”

When asked about his feelings about the City of Buffalo’s response to the storm, Porter said he did “frustrated” through the city “drop the ball” on the east side, a predominantly African-American region where there were many casualties. “Let’s be clear – that was one of the reasons it was so tragic,” Porter said. Knight stated that he believed Buffalo should have been better prepared and that the city could have saved lives if it had been better organized.

“They were warned and knew how catastrophic the storm was going to be.” he claimed, implying that those involved had known about the impending disaster for several days. They should have been prepared with the right staff. Poloncarz had publicly shamed Buffalo for the first time “embarrassing” response, who later retracted his comments.

“Storm after storm after storm after storm, unfortunately the city is the last to open. And it shouldn’t be” he said. “It’s embarrassing to tell the truth.” He also mentioned that a third of the city’s functions were transferred to Erie County.

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There was an extraordinary number of fatalities, and residents stated that they feel sadness about what may have been prevented. “Most of this could have been prevented in terms of fatalities.” said Knight.

Last lines

Buffalo Mayor Bryon Brown said New York University will conduct a “post-action study” of the region’s response to the crisis after a snowfall killed 39 people in New York’s Erie County. Brown said the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University will examine Buffalo’s storm preparations, responses and cleanups to learn lessons that can be applied to other major cities.

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