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Emergency Services Commissioner: 'no concerns' for Buffalo Bills game tomorrow

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) passes during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park.
Adrian Kraus
AP Photo
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) passes during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park.

Staying home Sunday may just pay off for Buffalo Bills fans.

New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray told WBFO Sunday she has "no concerns" for tomorrow's rescheduled Buffalo Bills game at Highmark Stadium. The Bills face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL Wild Card Game at 4:30 p.m.

Bray also said, regarding Erie County's travel ban that she is "confident that has saved lives" because Western New Yorkers followed it and have continued to stay off the road.

For more on the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services role in this storm, Bray's expectations for the days to come and her thoughts on the Buffalo Bills game, see the transcript of our interview below.


Emyle Watkins: This is Emyle Watkins and I'm joined by New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray for an update on the state of this weekend storm. Jackie, thanks for joining me.

Jackie Bray: Yeah, of course, Emyle, thanks for having me.

Emyle Watkins: I know the storm hit quickly and hard, what has the past 24 hours been like for your division?

Jackie Bray: You know, we're getting used to these big Buffalo storms, I will say that much. What we've been really focused on is keeping people safe. So before yesterday, we were pre-positioning equipment, coordinating to make sure we had enough, not only snow finding equipment, but search and rescue teams, utility line men and line women. And it looks like lots of that preparation paid off.

Emyle Watkins: And for people who might not be familiar with all the things your division does, what are some of the things your division is doing right now as the storm is happening?

Jackie Bray: Yeah, so right now, our Office of Emergency Management is really responsible for coordinating all of the state agency activity. So making sure that we know not only where all of our thruway and our DOT plows are, but where, what townships, what villages, what counties, what cities need additional help, need additional support, moving resources in. Same goes with making sure that we are tracking the snowmobiles, the UTV, the LMTVs, and all of the tracked equipment in the event that people need rescue or in the event that we need to assist emergency, you know, medical services or other folks to get around. And then of course, we also manage the state stockpiles. So those have been open and operating. That's when people need chainsaws or generators or light towers for emergency crews to be able to keep working.

Emyle Watkins: What are some areas of western New York that your division has had a lot of focus on or that have needed a lot of support?

Jackie Bray: Well, I will say that because of the travel ban, and because the folks in Western New York, the folks of Erie County really have followed the travel ban have obeyed the travel ban, people have stayed safe. Which is really our most, most important priority. Right now the snow bands are set up over the City of Buffalo and south and we really think that they're gonna, you know, focus and stay over the south towns as we head into the afternoon and into the evening. This morning, when when folks were waking up, they were over the Erie Niagara border, and we were very focused up in Niagara County and in the north towns. So it really depends on where that snow band is. Lake Effect snow is such a unique phenomenon. You know, it can be as you know, clear on one block and a couple blocks over whiteout conditions. So we follow the weather.

Emyle Watkins: And I did want to ask you about the travel ban. I know it's already been lifted for some parts of Erie County. But tell me a little bit about why this ban is so important for the work your division does.

Jackie Bray: Thank you. Yeah, so it has been lifted in the towns in the far south-eastern section of Erie County. Again, that was because of the location of this snow band. The travel ban is really about keeping people safe. What we look at when we're talking about travel bans are where are we going to see whiteout conditions? Where is it going to be that you cannot see in front of the hood of your car? Where is it going to be where the blowing snow is so intense that it's disorienting if you're trying to get around? That's what really makes things unsafe, it is not the snowfall itself. It's the intensity of the snowfall and the wind. And those two things put together. So that's what we look at. When we're determining, along with the county executive and the mayor, whether or not a travel ban is appropriate. For us, it's so important because it allows us to focus on helping the police, helping EMS, helping fire, helping our plows, and our snowblowers, make sure that we can prioritize when people are having medical emergencies, prioritize getting the roads clear and not get stuck or pulled in so many different directions as other people get stuck in the snow or unable to move around.

Emyle Watkins: And what are some challenges of a storm like this, especially for the work you do?

Jackie Bray: Yeah, the hardest thing about a storm like this is I would say two things. The first is that you're, we're constantly looking at the forecast. And while forecasting has gotten much, much better over the last decade or so the truth is that these bands sometimes oscillate, they move north and south in ways that we can't necessarily predict and so you can have a whole town of people that look out their window and think why is there a travel ban, what's going on? I don't get it. It looks fine out there. When in fact, you know, half a mile away, a quarter mile away, it's white out conditions and it's heading for those towns. And so that can be this incredibly difficult thing to communicate appropriately. And that communication is so important to keep people safe. And then the other thing, of course is you know that in truth, this is a statewide event, even though it's taking its wrath out in Buffalo now and in the Watertown area now, we had a storm Tuesday into Wednesday, we have snow squalls heading across the southern tier and into the capital region in central New York today, and more weather on its way next week for downstate, and Long Island. And so I think that making sure that we're keeping everything straight, making sure that we're deploying our resources to the right areas, particularly in an area of extreme weather and climate change is not an easy thing.

Emyle Watkins: That kind of leads into my next question, what are you expecting over the next few days?

Jackie Bray: So for here in Western New York, this storm is going to stay intense in the south towns, in the southern part of Buffalo city, through the evening hours. Overnight, it's going to drift back north, but at much less intensity. And then by tomorrow morning, we really expect both the snow and the wind to be to be really wound down. The cold, the bitter cold, and with the wind chill right now we've got temperatures in the single digits, is going to continue through the week. At least through Thursday looks maybe now like through Friday. And then statewide, we expect more precipitation Tuesday into Wednesday, although certainly nothing like this and not the type of storm or you would see us take precautions like we've taken here.

Emyle Watkins: You know, looking ahead to this week, what was your division's role in the Buffalo Bills game decision and how are things looking for tomorrow? Do you have any concerns?

Jackie Bray: So I have no concerns for tomorrow. That game is gonna get played. It's gonna get to played at Highmark field at 4:30 p.m. and the Bills are gonna win. But in terms of our job leading up to the decision to move the game that was really a conversation, many conversations, over several days between the governor, Governor Hochul, and the NFL commissioner. It is our job to advise the Governor as on what type of conditions we are likely to see. And then to talk through what that means for how we keep people safe. I think that it would have been incredibly difficult and dangerous to try to get 70,000 plus people into the stadium today in the lead up to a one o'clock game and even probably more dangerous to manage getting people out of that stadium safely. And so certainly the right call to move it to Monday. That was, those were conversations between the governor and the NFL commissioner. Our job here is to advise the governor on what we can do to keep people safe and how dangerous it will be.

Emyle Watkins: And I do want to ask, how does this storm compare to last year so far, our blizzard during December [2022]?

Jackie Bray: It is certainly less severe. The Christmas blizzard of 2022 was a historic blizzard. It was the longest most intense blizzard in US history below 5000 feet of elevation. I've started talking about it as a mountain top blizzard that hit a major American city at sea level. And so this is this is not that. This was never predicted to be that. It is about 20 to 30 degrees warmer. When we're looking at real feel temp or the wind chills. The winds are lower, not much lower, but lower. We had winds up over 70 miles an hour in that storm, we had winds now peeking around 65 miles an hour in this storm. And there's at least half as less snow maybe even less than that. But the real issue with the Christmas Blizzard was the duration it was 37 straight hours of whiteout conditions and blizzard conditions. We're certainly seeing nothing like the duration in this storm.

Emyle Watkins: And what do you think Western New Yorkers learned from last year? Or what do you hope they learned based on what you've seen during this storm?

Jackie Bray: Well, you know, hats off to the people of Erie County in this storm. They have really stayed at home they have hunkered down, they have listened to the warning and you know, stayed off the roads. And I think that's been so important. I am confident that has saved lives, in the overnight and continuing into this morning and this afternoon. The people of Erie County, the people of Western New York know how to do snow, and they are so familiar with major snowstorms. I think they also understand that blizzard conditions, whiteout conditions, aren't -- they're not a regular snowstorm. They're not even a regular Lake Effect event. They are really dangerous scenarios. And I think the people of Buffalo and the people of Western New York know that.

Emyle Watkins: And as a final question, is there anything you want Western New Yorkers to know or do to prepare for future storms, once this one is over?

Jackie Bray: Well, I think that in truth, the most important thing we can do to prepare for storms, and this is -- I don't, I'm not gonna say go buy batteries, I'm not gonna say go put a blanket in your car, you should do all that stuff, you should make sure you've got some food on hand and water on hand. But the most important thing we can do during storms is to check in on each other, and to and to stay connected with each other. What we know is that in neighborhoods where there are those social connections, where people not only check in on people, but say, 'Hey, don't weather that storm alone, come on over to my house for the weekend.' That type of community saves lives. And so I think you know, this is the Buffalo 'City of Neighbors' and I think that the most important thing we can all do is to stay connected with each other, is to check on each other, and is to build those neighborhood bonds, and in some cases, rebuild those neighborhood bonds that truly keep us safe.

Emyle Watkins: Thank you so much, Jackie.

Jackie Bray: Thank you, Emyle.

Copyright 2024 WBFO. To see more, visit WBFO.

Emyle Watkins