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Weathering the storm: What Georgia learned

POSTED: February 19, 2014 4:00 a.m.

Severe winter weather in Georgia is a rare occurrence. Although a few snowflakes do fall during the winter months, the snowflakes only stick around long enough to take a few pictures before melting away the next day in 50 degree weather.

January/February 2014 has been a completely different story. Early in January, we experienced abnormally cold temperatures that caused water pipes to burst and students to be kept home from school. Little did we know that the worst was yet to come.

Three weeks ago, our state made national headlines when just 2 inches of snow shut down Atlanta and the majority of North Georgia. Many Georgians expressed their anger and frustration with the state over what they felt was a lack of preparation for the weather.

In response, the state moved quickly to review their actions and create new strategies in case this kind of storm hit Georgia again.

Last week, that kind of storm hit once again. Although only two weeks had passed since the original storm, it was clear that Georgia had revised its emergency protocols and was proceeding with extra caution.

One of the most noticeable changes was the implementation of a storm warning system that triggered a message to cell phones in targeted areas-just like an Amber Alert-advising against road travel as soon as the threat of severe weather appeared.

In an effort to better prepare Georgians across the state, Gov. Nathan Deal's office increased communications with both school superintendents and meteorologists before the first drops of precipitation even fell from the sky.

The information provided by meteorologists was immediately distributed to school superintendents so that the most up-to-date information could be used when determining school closures.

The Governor's office also began road preparations the night before severe weather was expected to move in.

The Georgia State Patrol, department of transportation and the department of natural resources were instructed to begin equipment necessary for road treatment towards the areas where snow and ice was expected on Monday evening and to begin treating these roadways immediately. In addition, drivers were urged to stay home so that trucks could treat roads quickly and efficiently.

Gov. Deal also held frequent meetings with the directors of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, department of transportation, Georgia State Patrol and the department of natural resources.

Department of public health and department of community health commissioners, along with representative from Georgia Power and the EMCs, also participated in these meetings. Bringing together all of these groups for open dialogues about the impending weather ensured the state was following the most comprehensive plan of action.

I was glad to see Gov. Deal take swift action and place all six counties included in District 51 under a state of emergency early in the week.

North Georgia received 6 inches of snow during the course of the storm, but because of Gov. Deal's quick action, we were able to better prepare ourselves for the storm's impact.

By the end of last week, a total of 89 Georgia counties were included in this state of emergency declaration.

Although many of us were stuck indoors for a few days, advance warning and preparations allowed us to make arrangements so that every single member of the family was home safe and sound.

This time around, we erred on the side of caution. Schools cancelled classes, parents chose to stay home or telework and roads were properly treated. All of these measures, combined with the increased communications with the Governor's office and other state agencies, prevented the roads from jamming up with people fighting the weather to get home.

However, now's not the time to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. We need to continue our efforts to improve emergency response procedures for severe weather.

I was honored to be named to Gov. Deal's Severe Winter Weather Warning and Preparedness Task Force in early February. This 32-member task force has been tasked with advising the Governor on short-term and long-term solutions regarding the actions the state takes for severe winter weather.

We will take a close look at overhauling the state emergency app, determining new location services and alternative transportation routes, among a number of other tasks. We will also work closely with local meteorologists to learn more about current weather modeling and predictions.

As a member of the task force, I was able to visit the Georgia Department of Transportation traffic management center and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency operations center last week to observe how each agency was preparing for the storm.

The state did a fantastic job keeping Georgians updated on road conditions, and I would like to thank the men and women of the Georgia Emergency Management Center, Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia National Guard and all other public safety personnel who worked around the clock to ensure center functions or communications never stopped.

To prevent the loss of much-needed time to review and pass still-pending legislation, the Georgia General Assembly approved several changes to the legislative calendar last week. A new adjournment resolution deferred all legislative work until Monday, Feb. 17, and allowed legislators to get home to their families before the winter weather set in.

The adjournment resolution also set the last day of the 40-day legislative session for Thursday, March 20.

With so many bills still waiting to be reviewed and voted on-including the FY 2015 general budget-we could not afford to lose any more legislative days to bad weather.

I will be holding a town hall meeting this Saturday, Feb. 22, at 10 a.m. at the community center in Blairsville.

I will be providing an update on the 2014 legislative session and invite anyone who would like to attend.

I hope all of you made it through the most recent winter storm with minimal damage or service interruption.

More importantly, I hope everyone was able to be at home with their families during that time. I encourage anyone with questions about the Governor's task force or pending legislation to contact my office at any time.

As always, it is an honor and a privilege to represent District 51 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as Chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via email at steve.gooch@senate.ga.gov.

 

 

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