NYSDOT's response to snow emergencies in New York State

Michael H. Lashmet II, P.E., Snow and Ice Program Engineer, Office of Operations Management, New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), Albany, NY; Rich Jones, Regional Emergency Manager, NYSDOT Region 5, Buffalo, NY; and Dave Isbell, Regional Emergency Manager, NYSDOT Region 3, Syracuse, NY

Buffalo, NY, Snowstorm - October 12-13, 2006
Buffalo's record snowstorm on October 12 and 13, 2006 sent the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) into action, aiding in cleanup activities throughout Region 5 (Buffalo area) and part of Region 4 (Rochester area). This storm, dubbed the Columbus Day Massacre and the October Surprise, dropped 24" of heavy, wet snow in a period of 24 hours. Aftereffects included 400,000 people without power, downed power lines, and an extraordinary number of downed trees and tree limbs. Power was not restored to some customers for more than one week, adding issues like flooded facilities and dark signals to the cleanup effort.

  Buffalo damage

Once news of the event was reported, the NYSDOT activated their Statewide Transportation Information and Coordination Center (STICC) in Albany. During emergencies, the STICC is augmented by additional main office personnel trained in incident support roles in compliance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The STICC provides coordination of statewide support for the incident commander in areas of Planning, Operations, Logistics, Finance/Administration and Public Information.

The NYSDOT maintenance crews had all state routes opened and operational by mid-afternoon on October 13. The Department, through coordination by the STICC, quickly organized to deploy emergency crews from across the state, including a total of 339 operational personnel from the other regions to assist the 500 maintenance workers already responding in the Buffalo region. The Department's response was not limited to the state highway system. With the declaration of an emergency by the Governor, the Department's role was expanded to assisting the localities in their cleanup efforts.

Once the Governor declared a state of emergency, the Area Transportation Infrastructure Group (ATIG) was activated. The ATIG is a team lead by the NYSDOT Region 5 Director of Operations, Charles J. Morgante. Participating members included NYS Emergency Management Office, NYS Thruway Authority, Division of Military and Naval Affairs, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, Department of Corrections and the Department of Environmental Conservation. The NYSDOT used GIS assessment teams for the determination of the priority areas. Once priority areas and missions were determined, appropriate crews and resources from the ATIG were deployed.

  Darien Lake staging area

NYSDOT's response to this event was unprecedented. The NYSDOT utilized Darien Lake State Park, located in Region 4, as a staging area for all personnel to receive assignments and to have all equipment checked and prepped for the next day's work. Mechanics worked around the clock to ensure all equipment was safe and operational. Approximately 500 pieces of large wheeled equipment such as dump trucks, chippers and loaders were involved in the response activities. Additionally, significant effort was expended to secure lodging for the more than 330 out-of-region responders. Arranging for rooms in close proximity to the affected areas was problematic since many hotels were out of power, many rooms were already reserved by power companies and, in some cases, extended stays were limited due to previous reservations coinciding with a local professional sporting event. The STICC continued supporting emergency operations and planning throughout the event.

  Buffalo debris removal

With the most pressing needs on the state highway system being addressed and localities bringing private contractors on board to help handle cleanup, demobilization of NYSDOT resources began. Demobilization of the additional NYSDOT staff and equipment began Friday, October 27. Approximately 250 employees and over 200 pieces of large wheeled equipment were discharged by the end of October. Special tree crews of approximately 50 employees from visiting regions continued with the cleanup until November.

The effects of the October Storm 2006 are still seen throughout the Buffalo area today. This storm has severely affected the landscape of western New York State. Various cleanup operations, tree plantings and hazardous tree removals remain active.

Oswego County, NY, Lake Effect Storm - February 3-12, 2007
Heavy lake effect snow is nothing new to Oswego County. It is not uncommon to see a forecast calling for "feet" of snow rather than "inches." NYSDOT Operational Personnel assigned to Oswego County just deal with it. They always have. They always will. Even this February when nearly 12 feet of the white stuff accumulated over a 10-day period, the dedicated and experienced NYSDOT snowfighters of the Oswego Residency managed to keep the state highway system running. They worked nonstop around the clock for weeks to keep the highway system open and operating. That's why they are considered to be among the best of the best when it comes to snow and ice operations.

  Oswego snowblower

As the snow accumulated, many municipalities began to experience problems. After several days of one- to two-foot daily snowfalls followed by a couple of three-foot days, they had no place left to put the snow. The plows would push snow to the side of the road, making the roads narrower. Many local roads soon became nearly impassable for emergency vehicles and normal traffic.

On the morning of February 8, 2007, Oswego County declared an emergency followed shortly thereafter with a state emergency declaration by Governor Spitzer. Legally, that allowed the State's Area Transportation Infrastructure Group (ATIG) to activate. The ATIG is a group of a dozen or so state agencies that have the capability to clear roads. The Department of Transportation serves as the Chair of this group and has the authority and responsibility to manage the emergency road clearance activities.

NYSDOT Region 3 contacted the Statewide Transportation Information and Coordination Center (STICC) to help coordinate deployments of personnel and equipment from other regions across the state to assist in the operation. Within 12 hours of Oswego County's request to assist the localities, NYSDOT maintenance forces were deployed to every town and village to operate snowblowers to remove the snow and reopen the local roads. Five snowblowing crews worked around the clock for two weeks until the work was complete. In all, well over 100 operational employees from other regions were deployed, including equipment operators, supervisors and mechanics. As an ATIG member agency, the National Guard was also brought in to assist with snow removal operations. The National Guard responded with 100 soldiers with loaders and dump trucks to remove snow from areas where it was not practical for the large DOT blowers to operate. Their work included clearing access to fire department, ambulance, and other governmental facility driveways and parking lots.

  Oswego snowblower and truck

A response of this magnitude requires a considerable effort to organize, so the Region 3 ICS (Incident Command System) Team was brought in to manage the operation. Our team was up to the challenge and did everything necessary to mobilize, support, supervise and manage both the NYSDOT and National Guard crews working throughout Oswego County. They worked tirelessly around the clock to make sure things went smoothly and roads were opened quickly.

NYSDOT maintenance crews received many positive comments from DOT management, the National Guard, and Oswego County municipalities complimenting Region 3 for the way the response to this incident was handled and for the assistance provided. These comments are a tribute to all the DOT staff involved and their dedication, willingness to volunteer, and ability to get the job done!

Michael H. Lashmet II can be reached at (518) or mlashmet@dot.state.ny.us; Rich Jones can be reached at (716) 847-3238; and Dave Isbell can be reached at (315) 428-4351.