Disseminate Notifications of Emergency Alerts and Travel Bans via Mass Text Messaging to Reach Residents, per Lessons Learned from the December 2022 Buffalo Blizzard.

A Report for the Mayor of Buffalo Condenses Interviews, Data Analysis, and Historical Context into Recommendations for Effective Public Communication Methods During Severe Winter Storms.

Date Posted
11/20/2023
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Identifier
2023-L01202

Lessons Learned from the Buffalo Blizzard: Recommendations for Strengthening Preparedness and Recovery Efforts

Summary Information

For local governments, communicating up-to-date weather reports and advisories is an important part of public safety. Systems required to execute this task effectively take forethought and must be part of an emergency preparedness strategy. Weeks after the December 2022 blizzard, one of the worst in continental US history, the Mayor of Buffalo commissioned a study to examine the City’s response, and to suggest actionable improvements for future events. The study focused on four areas: inadequate road recovery time, inadequate utility resilience, insufficient public communication, and the disproportionate impacts on citizens already experiencing social and economic inequity. To make its analysis and recommendations, the study drew from stakeholder interviews, first-hand sources, such as utility provider reports and social, local, and national media, and previous experiences with a blizzard of the same magnitude which struck Buffalo in 1977. 

Lessons Learned

  • Enhance the enrollment of wireless emergency alert systems and install physical signage in public locations to ensure emergency notifications reach the majority of residents. Alerts on travel bans and stay-at-home orders were not sufficient to fully convey the situation's urgency in Buffalo. The City relied on television and radio announcements, which were ineffective to reach to wider public. Only 16 percent of residents were enrolled in the City’s existing text messaging alert system, BUFFALERT. The study suggested that Buffalo can deploy year-round marketing across all forms of media to increase enrollment in BUFFALERT and expand the reach of emergency storm warnings through physical signage in public locations.
  • Coordinate text messaging alert systems with other channels. Any other communication channels should be aligned with the emergency communication system. For example, Eire County has a preparedness app to communicate with residents. Buffalo has a social media presence. All platforms should align in their messaging and strategy. All public communications should include direction to BUFFALERT as a primary source of real-time information.
  • Establish a consistent communication schedule using messaging systems like BUFFALERT. Officials should communicate with a “battle rhythm” to disseminate warnings and information at consistent times throughout the day.
  • Ensure messaging systems like BUFFALERT are customized to recipient demographics and classifications, such as businesses or home-bound seniors. This targeted approach ensures that the messages are clear and relevant, enabling residents to make informed decisions based on their specific needs and circumstances.

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