A ferocious snow storm descended on Erie County during the twilight hours on Monday November 17, with forecasts of up to three feet of lake effect snow falling across the community. The first flakes began falling right on schedule, but Mother Nature’s plan for us changed when snowfall rates increased to 3-5 inches an hour in affected areas and the snow bands did not leave the metro area. A ten-mile-wide swath of the County was about to get buried under snow that accumulated up to 6 feet in most spots and exceeded 7 feet in some. Winter Storm Knife had arrived, and as heavy snows fell for the next 36 hours we coordinated a response that eventually grew to include thousands of relief workers and hundreds of pieces of equipment of all types spreading out to hard-hit communities.
The Emergency Operations Center (“EOC”) in Cheektowaga served as the region-wide nerve center for response during Winter Storm Knife. Once it was safe enough to travel to the EOC, storm response personnel from every conceivable field and from across NYS arrived there in a coordinated effort to protect and maintain public safety, clear roads as quickly as possible, and support residents struggling with the snow. Communications were critical, with twice-daily conference calls with all municipalities helping to improve overall situational awareness in a rapidly changing environment. Despite the fact that some communities inexplicably chose not to participate in these calls or reach out for assistance, a coordinated storm response was developed with communities involved and help was on its way. With a storm of this magnitude, it was essential to forego a “me first” attitude and be a part of a larger solution, and I thank all the local officials, public works employees, and emergency responders who embraced the larger effort as Erie County got back to normal.
Thanks to Governor Cuomo, NYS assistance in the form of hundreds of Department of Transportation and National Guard personnel and hundreds of pieces of heavy snow-removing equipment was brought to bear in Erie County. As affected communities reached out for assistance, their requests were entered into the Disaster Local Access Network (“D-LAN”) system, an Internet-based disaster-relief communication system that matches incoming requests for assistance with available assets and deploys them accordingly. Through this system snowplows, payloaders, and heavy trucks were able to respond to the communities that asked for them in as timely a manner as the storm allowed. This process has been in place since 2004, so to hear that elected officials were not aware of it or chose not to use it is alarming and discouraging. In 2014, we need to use modern technologies and communications to succeed when battling a disaster, whether it is a tornado, hurricane, or an event like Winter Storm Knife. The County will be offering free training sessions on the D-LAN system, and I encourage all local officials who need to familiarize themselves with it to do so before the next storm strikes, rather than pointing fingers and proudly proclaiming their ignorance while leaving their residents to fend for themselves.