Attorney General James is calling on the National Weather Service to send out cell phone alerts about severe winter storms
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today called on the National Weather Service (NWS) to send Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) to warn the public of severe winter weather events, such as major snow storms, ice storms, and other dangerous conditions. The NWS currently sends regional WEAs to cell phones for other types of severe weather, but not for winter storms. Citing the deadly effects of the December 2022 Buffalo Blizzard, during which 47 New Yorkers lost their lives, Attorney General James is urging the NWS to change its policy of issuing severe winter weather alerts.
“A wireless emergency alert can be the difference between life and death,” he said. Prosecutor James. “Multiple reports issued in the wake of last December’s devastating snowstorm in the Buffalo area agree that better early communication with the public about the storm could have saved lives. I urge the National Weather Service to immediately expand radio emergency alerts to include severe winter storms.” So New Yorkers can access the information they need to protect themselves, their families, and their loved ones.
The Buffalo Blizzard struck western New York from December 23 to December 27, 2022. On December 21, 2022, the NWS Buffalo Weather Office predicted that a “once in a generation” storm would bring “damaging winds of 60 to 70 mph “. “Heavy lake-crippling snow” and “rapid freeze-up,” but the NWS did not send WEA reports on these risks to New Yorkers before or during the storm. The Buffalo-Niagara area was hit by 37 straight hours of severe blizzard conditions and 70 mph winds, killing 47 people. Nearly half of them were outside or in their cars when they lost their lives.
The WEAs are part of a national system through which nuclear-weapon states and participating state and local public safety and emergency management agencies can send emergency text messages through mobile phone carriers. Unlike most other emergency communications systems, individuals do not need to sign up or subscribe to receive WEAs, as alerts are automatically sent to cell phones in the affected area during an emergency. Early warning agencies have been the primary national alert method for more than a decade, and are especially important during widespread power outages, when people cannot get updates on TV or radio.
In the letter sent today, Attorney General James says that had WEAs been sent to Western New Yorkers, the devastating loss of life and associated community impacts caused by the blizzard could have been mitigated. For example, WEA warnings of the expected severity of the upcoming snowstorm likely prompted people to take more preparatory measures, such as stocking up on groceries and transporting elderly or disabled family members. With advance warning, individuals may also have taken more protective measures once the blizzard hit, such as staying indoors and staying off the roads.
Recognizing that global environmental agencies alone cannot prepare an entire region for extreme weather, Attorney General James suggests that nuclear weapon states should coordinate with local emergency management authorities to develop strategies to reach vulnerable individuals and communities, including those with limited English proficiency. . Attorney General James also encourages NWS field offices, such as the weather forecast office in Buffalo, to work more closely with local leaders of civic organizations and houses of worship, who can ensure emergency warnings reach as many people as possible. Finally, Attorney General James is asking the NWS to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the 2022 Buffalo Snowstorm, including a review of its public messaging efforts, just as the NWS has done with other severe weather events nationwide.
Attorney General James has been a national leader in urging the federal government to improve severe weather emergency alerts. In March 2022, citing the deadly consequences of Hurricane Ida in New York City, which disproportionately affected immigrants from Asia with limited English proficiency, Attorney General James sent a letter to the NWS calling for increased language access. As a follow-up, in October 2022, Attorney General James sent a letter to the Chairman of the FCC and the wireless industry urging them to work together to quickly expand access to language for severe weather alerts. Most recently, Attorney General James led a coalition of 16 Attorneys General and the City of New York to support the FCC’s efforts to expand access to life-saving alerts regarding severe weather events.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Max Shterngel, Senior Counsel Timothy Hoffman, Environmental Scientist Jennifer Nalbone, and Program Assistant Isabelle Murphy, all of the Office of Environmental Protection, under the supervision of Office Deputy Chief Lisa Borianek. The Office of Environmental Protection is headed by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srulovich and is part of the Social Justice Division, which is led by Senior Deputy Attorney General Megan Vu and supervised by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.