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Buffalo officials enlist school district in emergency planning

School officials emphasize they could not get all 60 buildings open for emergency shelters but a limited number of buildings could be prepared for shelter use.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even with warmer weather now thoughts of the deadly December blizzard still haunt Buffalo City Hall as officials review problems and issues that cropped up with the city government response. 

So the Buffalo City Common Council is now enlisting the Buffalo Public School District in the overall effort to be better prepared for emergencies.

Buffalo City Councilman Brian Bollman introduced something he calls the Warm Up Act to seek more teamwork from city agencies and residents on emergency planning. As he said Tuesday morning in Council Chambers during the Education Committee meeting "I think greater coordination and putting it all together would be useful."

That comment signals Bollman's hopes for greater involvement of the Buffalo School District in the city's emergency planning. 

We may recall the Merry Christmas Jay heroics in December as Jay Whitey broke into a Cheektowaga school and ended up with 24 other people joining him as they survived with the school's still-stocked cafeteria. 

So perhaps Buffalo schools could follow that example to a degree. School Board Member Cindi McEachon told Council "To raise up what we can do, how we can step in and how jointly we can all work together to improve - and not just have a plan but know how to execute the plan when necessary."

School officials emphasize they could not get all 60 buildings open for emergency shelters but a limited number of buildings could be prepared for shelter use with city and neighborhood planning.

The School District's Chief Operating Officer David Hills said, "Having some key block club marshals that can be mobilized to communicate - they don't try and go there or try and go here. And say I've got five people that need someplace to go and then if there's a way to communicate that. But I think direct access is not something we'd be able to do."

He did add an example of where they might be able to help more so. 

"People could say I'm down the street from School 74 - because this actually came from the Hamlin Park community - call someone instead of the engineer there who might not be there. Might not have been able to get there. But can call in and say I've got ten families on my block without power who are freezing. What can we do? And they could get an option. And that person would then contact BPS and say we need to get into that school. And we'd make sure resources are deployed there." 

Some council members feel schools could actually supplement community centers as potential shelter sites. Councilman Mitch Nowakowski points out.

"Oftentimes those schools are located directly in neighborhoods and walking distances more than just community centers that are kind of disproportionally throughout certain districts cause not every district has a community center."

"In a state of emergency, we do have something in place that we could move on at a moment's notice and not be scrambling to try to figure out what's going on. Because it is about saving lives and the fact that we have 46 lives lost during a blizzard speaks to us and the importance of having something in place," Councilman Rasheed N.C. Wyatt said. 

Other ideas might be lock boxes in schools and community centers to allow first responders to gain access and perhaps open up a building for emergency shelter. 

And with that perhaps backup generators to help keep some heat on if the power goes out in that building which happened at the shelter in the Lovejoy Council District. 

Finally, the city might be able to designate school or church parking lots for use as areas for city residents to move their cars before a storm or for towing if need be to get the plows down narrow streets more efficiently without parked cars. 

Bollman says there is much more work to be done with this type of planning for city schools and other agencies. 




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