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NEW YORK CITY

OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

TESTIMONY OF COMMISSIONER JOSEPH F. BRUNO


COMMISSIONER

Before the New York City Council Committees on Public Safety,


Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, Oversight and
Investigations, and Fire and Criminal Justice Services

January 10, 2011


Good afternoon Chairperson Vallone, Chairperson Crowley, Chairperson Williams, Chairperson
James, and members of the Committees on Public Safety, Oversight and Investigations, Fire and
Criminal Justice Services, and Sanitation and Solid Waste Management. I am Joseph F. Bruno,
Commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM). I am joined by my
colleagues from City Hall, the Fire Department and the Department of Sanitation.

Put simply, the City’s response to this blizzard did not live up the standards we set for ourselves and
the standards the public expects and deserves. Today, I will talk to you about OEM’s role in
planning for and monitoring winter weather. I will also walk you through the decisions that were
made before the storm and talk to you about some of the challenges we faced during the storm.

OEM’s Role

During emergencies, OEM’s job is to coordinate the City’s response and recovery, and to collect
and disseminate critical information to key stakeholders in the government, the private sector, and
the public.

Although every emergency creates new and unforeseen conditions that require improvised
procedures, we have plans in place that define the way we operate. Emergencies in New York City
are managed under the Citywide Incident Management System (CIMS). CIMS establishes
command structures for a range of incidents. It assigns a lead, or command element, designates
which agency or agencies are in charge, and sets forth roles and responsibilities for agencies
involved in emergency response. In 2004, I oversaw the creation of this system and it has worked
well for the City. Under CIMS, weather events like the storm we are here to discuss are managed
by a unified command with the Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Police
Department, the Fire Department, and OEM.

The plan that guides the City’s response to the hazards that winter brings, including severe cold and
major snow storms, is the New York City Winter Weather Emergency Plan. The Winter Weather
Emergency Plan, much like the City’s heat plan, is a strategic document that describes agency
responsibilities, key decisions, and interagency coordination.

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Weather Monitoring

A primary role for OEM during any weather event is monitoring. OEM is staffed 24 hours a day,
365 days a year. Our Watch Command and field response operations work around the clock.
Through Watch Command, we continuously monitor weather in consultation with the National
Weather Service. We communicate weather information to all stakeholders early and often. The
uncertainty in weather forecasts makes predicting impacts, particularly snow accumulation and
timing, difficult.

When a National Weather Service forecast exceeds one of the plan’s thresholds - such as six inches
of snow or temperatures below 15 degrees for more than two days - OEM convenes a group of City,
state, federal, non-profit, and volunteer agencies called the Winter Weather Emergency Steering
Committee. Through this Committee, the National Weather Service provides the forecast and its
predicted impacts, and OEM ensures that agency preparations are in place.

Event Description

I’d like to take you through the events leading up to and during the storm.

As previously mentioned, we are always talking to the National Weather Service. And on Friday,
December 24th, National Weather Service predicted 3 to 5 inches of snow with a forecast
confidence of 50%. This did not meet our activation threshold. However, we continued to monitor
forecasts and keep agencies informed of the latest forecasts. By midnight on Christmas Eve, the
forecasted snowfall had increased to 6–8 inches, and it continued to grow through the morning and
early afternoon of Saturday the 25th. This predicted snowfall met our plan threshold so we notified
agencies and command centers, convened the Winter Weather Steering Committee which consists
of thirty-plus agencies, and prepared to open the City’s Emergency Operations Center.

The purpose of the EOC is to bring all of the agencies involved in a response together to provide the
City with a common operating picture, and to identify and solve problems. In addition, when an
agency needs assistance to do its job, it can request resources through the EOC, and we will get
them from other City agencies, neighboring counties, states and the federal government, and from
the private sector.

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On Christmas Day minutes before our scheduled 4pm call with the Winter Weather Emergency
Steering Committee, National Weather Service issued a Blizzard Warning and predicted 9 to 14
inches of snow in New York City with a forecast confidence of 60% allowing us to discuss the
change with the 40 agencies on the call including the National Weather Service.

When the Blizzard Warning was issued we notified our partners in the private and human services
sectors and reached out to the public through Notify NYC and social media.

The Winter Weather Emergency Steering Committee met again at 12 noon on December 26th.
During that discussion, National Weather Service described for the first time a worst-case scenario
of up to 20 inches of snow. The heaviest snow was forecast to arrive around 5pm. As we all know
now, the snow began earlier than we anticipated. However, all agencies reported on time and we
were fully staffed with representatives from Police Department, Fire, Sanitation, Department of
Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Department of Buildings, Department of
Housing Preservation and Development, Con Edison, National Grid, and the New York State Office
of Emergency Management.

This was a ferocious storm. In addition to dumping more than 20 inches of snow across the City, it
brought hurricane-force winds and temperatures below freezing for several days. This was the sixth
largest snowstorm ever recorded in NYC, and it dropped more snow on Brooklyn and Staten Island
than any storm in modern history. The intensity of the storm, coupled with its arrival on one of the
busiest travel days of the year, created significant challenges for the City.

During the Storm

As the snow fell we worked to collect and share information with City agencies, regional partners,
businesses, and the public. We maintained contact with our partner agencies who provide services
to the special needs population in NYC, including MTA Paratransit, Department for the Aging, End
State Renal Disease Network, Human Resources Administration, American Red Cross and the
Administration for Children’s Services. We reviewed their plans for continuity of critical services
and discussed contingency plans to address service gaps.

In the early morning hours of December 27th, we began to face a series of problems with vehicles
stuck in the snow, most notably ambulances. We began to receive reports of snowbound

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ambulances and buses, and abandoned cars blocking streets. OEM focused on these issues in the
EOC by collecting and providing the location of these ambulances to the Sanitation Department and
the Police Department. Many ambulances were freed from the snow, but the scope of the problem
grew throughout the early morning. More and more vehicles became snowbound, and in some
cases even the tow trucks and the Fire Department equipment sent to assist them became stuck. We
established a process to expedite information about snowbound ambulances from EMS to the
Sanitation Department and Police Department for assistance. This helped to get some ambulances
freed, but as the number of stuck vehicles continued to grow, it became necessary for a greater
focus on this critical problem.

It became clear to us that we did not have enough tow trucks and that tow trucks and plows weren’t
sufficient for the task - we needed front-end loaders. In fact, we needed all three pieces of
equipment to be sent at the same time. To accomplish the movement of these resources, we created
a Task Force of high-level Police Department, FDNY, and DSNY staff with expertise in, and
control of, the front-end loaders, tow trucks, and plows which immediately began working to free
additional ambulances. Within a few hours the Task Force managed to free 120 ambulances. Once
all of the ambulances were cleared, the group expanded its focus to stuck buses and the stranded
vehicles that impeded plowing operations.

The work of this task force, is a good example of the value added by the coordination of agencies
and resources in the EOC.

The EOC operated continuously through January 1st. During that time, we communicated with our
regional partners, including the Port Authority, state agencies, and emergency managers from
neighboring counties. Through our Logistics Section in the EOC, we focused on resource requests
from agencies, including towing resources and front-end loaders from New York State and
winterized ambulances from upstate NY and New Jersey. Throughout the duration of the storm and
the cleanup, OEM communicated with hospitals both directly and through our partners, the Health
and Hospitals Corporation and the Greater New York Hospital Association. We did this through
teleconference, telephone, and 800 Megahertz radio alerts – monitored by all hospitals and other
health care facilities.

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Lessons Learned

We are in the middle of a top-to-bottom review of our operations to identify areas of improvement
and implement new solutions. The lessons we are learning will make us better prepared to respond
to all emergencies.

We followed our Winter Weather plan, but after this storm, we have identified a list of things we
can and must do better.

We are looking at the Emergency Operations Center. Should we have activated earlier? Should we
have involved more agencies? Were those agencies represented by the right people? These
questions are part of our review.

With respect to snowbound ambulances: We were too slow to recognize that the strategy we had in
place wasn’t enough. We lost time in getting the right focus on the problem and getting in place the
equipment we needed to solve it. We need to react immediately and effectively to any report of a
stuck ambulance. We did not establish the task force quickly enough.

In addition, we didn’t know how bad conditions were on the ground, especially in southern
Brooklyn and Staten Island. We need more and better tools to understand conditions in real time.

Our personnel and equipment need to be ready to be deployed well before they are needed

Did we do a good job? There is no way we can see the results that we see here and say that we did
the job that is expected of us. Our team is deeply committed to performing up to that standard and
we will make whatever changes are necessary to achieve that.

Thank you again for this opportunity to speak with you. I am happy to answer any questions.