The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services today announced the completion of an independent after-action review of the State’s response to December 2022’s historic blizzard in Western New York, commonly referred to as the Buffalo Blizzard. Given the ongoing reality of climate change, New York State is expected to experience more extreme weather and this independent review was commissioned by Governor Kathy Hochul to further strengthen the State's emergency response efforts. It was completed by the management consultancy firm Guidehouse and includes a full analysis of the State’s response efforts, as well as recommendations for how to further strengthen emergency response operations in New York State.
“Simply put, this storm was a mountain-top blizzard over a major American city at sea level – something we have never been seen before,” said Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray. “Our number one job is to keep New Yorkers safe and with climate change continuing to cause unprecedented extreme weather, it was critical we study this response and find ways to further strengthen the state’s emergency operations. We thank Guidehouse for their work on this important review and look forward to implementing its recommendations.”
Originating as a part of a statewide weather system which also produced downstate flooding, severe winter weather began impacting Western New York the morning of December 23, with blizzard conditions arriving earlier than originally forecasted. Throughout the duration of the event, there were 37 straight hours of blizzard-like conditions in Erie County, which is the longest recorded blizzard in the United States under 5,000 feet of elevation. Niagara County also experienced record-breaking snowfalls. A mix of heavy snow and high winds created zero-visibility conditions for nearly two days, conditions that were compounded by extreme cold and power outages. At the height of the storm, more than 80,000 households were without power. New York State agency personnel conducted more than 650 rescues in Western New York throughout the course of this storm and local officials rescued hundreds more.
Ahead of, and throughout the blizzard, state agencies were in constant communication with the National Weather Service and local governments. DHSES’ Office of Emergency Management and Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the State Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority, State Police, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Department of Environmental Conservation pre-deployed resources to the Western New York, Finger Lakes, and North Country regions ahead of the storm. Additional State resources were surged to heavily impacted areas, including a total of over 800 National Guard soldiers.
To complete this review, Guidehouse’s focused on analyzing how New York State’s executive level agencies prepared for and responded to the blizzard. As part of the process, the firm examined more than 1,300 pages of documentation, interviewed dozens of key personnel from State, local and private-sector organizations, analyzed the State’s communication efforts and conducted focus groups with Buffalo-area residents impacted by the storm. Full review can be viewed here.
Based on this research and analysis, the review offered a number of recommendations in four key areas to further strengthen future emergency responses:
- Grow the subscriber base for NY-Alert.
- Ensure the risks associated with weather events are clearly communicated.
- Communicate government actions consistently with all partners.
- Ensure the universal use of a single emergency response software for incident management in NYS.
- Standardize local operations by enhancing trainings for New York Responds, including more in-person trainings.
- Create shorter user-friendly desk guides to supplement existing instructional documentation on the use of New York Responds.
- Enhance the County Emergency Preparedness Assessment to assist in understanding local capacity.
- Encourage counties to seek Local Emergency Management accreditation.
- Develop a shared vision of roles and responsibilities for emergency management with local partners.
- Draft a blizzard-specific annex for the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan to establish a consistent approach and expectation.
- Conduct additional routine tabletop exercises designed to address unique regional risks and include local participation.
- Consider staffing adjustments in the State Emergency Operations Center to close information gaps.
Following this historic storm, Governor Hochul worked to secure a Presidentially-declared Major Disaster Declaration providing federal assistance to communities in Western New York, the North Country and Long Island, which experienced significant coastal flooding. Governor Hochul also announced the U.S. Small Business Administration provided more than $15 million in the form of low-interest loans to more than 500 home and business owners impacted by the storm in Western New York.
About the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services provides leadership, coordination and support to prevent, protect against, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate disasters and other emergencies. For more information, find DHSES on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), or visit dhses.ny.gov.