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State emergency services commissioner addresses blizzard response during budget hearings

"We've never seen anything like this," NYS Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said during budget hearings in Albany on Tuesday.

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State's top emergency manager didn't mince words about the December blizzard

"When I say we've never seen anything like that, it's because we have actually never seen anything like that," Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said during a legislative budget hearing. "It's not hyperbole, it was the longest blizzard in the continental United States history below 5000 feet of elevation."

According to the National Weather Service report on the storm, WNY experienced blizzard conditions for 40 straight hours. 

For the first time since the blizzard that killed 47, the commissioner publicly responded to questions from lawmakers. 

Southern Tier Senator George Borrello bluntly asked the commissioner how she would rate the state's response. 

"I think the state did a good job," Commissioner Bray said. " But I'm really clear-eyed and conscious of the fact that any time that many people die from a natural disaster, you have to look seriously at what can be done better."

Commissioner Bray was not ready to quarterback anything specific that may have gone right or wrong, particularly when Senator Borrello asked about the driving ban issued by Erie County.  

"Those decisions are brutally tough decisions," Commissioner Bray said. "In this state, they're delegated to the counties in the localities, we don't have decisional authority there." 

When asked by Homeland Security committee chair Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (23rd District) what the agency could do better next time, Commissioner Bray said there will be a formal after-action report starting in a week or two. 

That report will take several months to complete, according to Commissioner Bray. 

"I think my gut is that the most important recommendations are going to be made about what happens prior to a storm," Bray said.

The commissioner cited populations that are struggling economically and have challenges accessing information in real-time as two areas the agency could focus on. 

"We need to address those things at that level, in order to see better outcomes."

Senator Patrick Gallivan questioned the state's role in communication between the city and county during the storm. 

"What role can the state or your agency play to ensure that there is coordination between everybody?" Senator Gallivan asked. 

"I think we should play an essential and central role in ensuring that there is communication and coordination in a regional response, full stop," Commissioner Bray responded. 

Senator Gallivan followed up to ask if there was anything from a budget standpoint that could improve communication, but Commissioner Bray simply said that her team will continue to stay in communication during critical situations and that the budget was fine. 

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