ALBANY, NY (WNY News Now) — Members of the New York State legislature met Tuesday to discuss, amongst other important topics, the disaster relief funding heading to Western New York following December’s historic winter storm.
Already $36.5 million dollars in damage and costs have been submitted for federal disaster relief, with an initial $5 million dollar emergency declaration request from Governor Kathy Hochul approved.
Jackie Bray, Commissioner of the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, spoke at the legislative budget hearing this week about the issues first responders were plagued with during the Buffalo storm.
“This storm was a challenge of access and mobility. And so what I have to do in my job is ask myself, is there anything we could’ve done to change the dynamic of access and mobility. Change the fact that for twelve hours, the Buffalo Fire Department suspended emergency response for twelve to eighteen hours depending on where you were, first responders couldn’t go out,” says Bray.
Bray also hinted at changes that will be coming following the high number of deaths seen from the storm.
“We have an after action that will launch in the next couple weeks. We will make that after action public when it’s complete, I expect it to take several months. I expect that they will identify areas for improvement,” explains Bray. “One of the things I’m most interested in looking at is what was the communication prior to the storm. And what was, not just in the week prior to the storm, but a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, how do we get better at helping people understand that the weather of today is substantively different than the weather of yesterday. Storms are more powerful.”
Officials in Erie County, New York announced they are working to create an emergency alert system, similar to amber alerts, to warn residents of incoming severe weather.
A new rating system similar to the system used by hurricanes will also be developed to help relay how severe an upcoming storm will be.
However, Senator George Borrello says that the danger of the storm started before the snow or wind even began.
“The driving ban was too late. People that already left for work. We knew that this was gonna be a powerful storm, they talked about it for at least a week if not longer and I think that that is certainly hamstrung people’s ability to safely get to home or back,” says Borrello.
Ultimately, 20,000 people were left without power and more than forty people died in the Christmas blizzard.