Public Health Issues Raised both during and After Historic Buffalo Snowstorm

Published November 25, 2014

“The biggest problem that first responders face is fatigue.”
John Violanti , Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

When Western New York was hit by a lake effect snow storm this past week, first responders, National Guard members and snow-removal crews worked around the clock to assist citizens and communities impacted by the unprecedented storm.  Snow fell at an incredible rate, with certain areas of the region receiving five inches per hour, totaling over seven feet. The snowfall prompted many school and business closures, including a two-day closure of the University at Buffalo, and a state of emergency was declared for several counties in and around the Buffalo, New York area.

As a result, stress levels increased and fatigue became a major issue according to John Violanti, PhD, a University at Buffalo research professor of epidemiology and environmental health and former New York State trooper.

“The biggest problem that first responders face is fatigue,” Violanti, a faculty member in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and an expert on police culture, psychological stress, illness and mortality.  Violanti has federal funding to study and measure police officer fatigue and the impact of shift work on health and performance.

“The New York State troopers and all first responders worked endless shifts, not getting home to care for their own families, sleeping at the barracks, and eating whatever they could find,” said Violanti. “The second issue is the overwhelming multitude of emergency calls to first responders that are virtually impossible to handle.” Individuals were stranded in cars, snowed into their homes and unable to travel due to bans across the entire area and the closing of all major thoroughfares. The tragic weather event has claimed the lives of 13 individuals.

While the snow has stopped falling, first responders and other public safety workers have responded to new concerns.

More than 30 major roof collapses were reported due to the weight of the snow that fell on residential and commercial building rooftops with additional collapses feared.

In addition, a warming weather pattern has prompted several flood watches and warnings for the area through mid-week.  New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo has put in place evacuation plans for the area and the Red Cross has set-up shelters for those that may need assistance should flooding occur.