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Officials react to snowstorm response
by Everett Catts
February 05, 2014 03:56 PM | 1516 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Officials in Atlanta and Sandy Springs said they responded to last week’s snowstorm as quickly as possible but could have done better. Up to three inches of snow blanketed metro Atlanta, stranding residents on highways and in schools.

“Obviously we could have closed our facilities a little bit earlier,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said of city offices. “We closed around 11 [a.m. Tuesday]. We only have the ability to affect our own people [city employees]. I know the [Fulton County] school system took a big hit for having school that day. But once [the snowstorm] hit, they did the right decision by keeping those kids in schools and sheltered rather than in buses. I know some buses were stuck.”

Paul also said it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“One of the things we learned from this is, if you do get caught, take the winter advisory seriously and err on the side of caution. You’re going to get criticized if you shut down things even if the storm does not come, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. It was like someone dropped a green flag and everyone left all at once.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took the blame for schools, businesses and government all letting out at the same time, and said they should have staggered their closings.

“I’m not thinking about a grade right now,” Reed said when asked about the city’s response. “I’m thinking about getting people out of their cars.”

The Georgia State Patrol said there were about 2,000 vehicles abandoned along the state’s freeways due to the snowstorm. In an email Monday, Atlanta spokesman Carlos Campos said the city did not yet have information on the number of vehicles towed, the number of people sheltered, the number of staff overtime hours used or the total estimated cost of the storm cleanup.

Though she could not provide the estimated cost of the cleanup, the number of overtime hours used by staff or the number of vehicles abandoned on its roads, Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun did say the city towed 212 vehicles to clear the roads. She said the cost and overtime figures would be available as early as this week and the city would not estimate the number of abandoned vehicles because some could belong to people living in homes where they are parked.

She also said the city’s estimated cost of the last major winter storm, in January 2011, was $304,152 and included overtime, materials, equipment, emergency contracts, lodging and other expenses.

Regarding this year’s storm, Paul said, “We had a lot of difficulty. It’s very tough to treat every inch of streets when every inch is covered by vehicles. We did shift our focus to provide food, facilities and a place to sleep, but we kept working, too. But under the circumstances, we did amazingly well. When we got Roswell Road and Johnson Ferry and Abernathy [roads] opened again, they couldn’t get up the hills in Roswell and east Cobb so we sent our trucks into those areas.”

Paul said the city had 320 people housed in the city’s six temporary shelters, plus others sheltered at local businesses such as grocery stores. He thanked the city’s first responders for the job they did and Sandy Springs’ residents for their generosity in taking in strangers.

Paul talked about what the city did right in its response to the storm.

“We started earlier than most,” he said. “We went in and pre-treated the medical complex [Pill Hill]. That started at about 9 in the morning and we pre-treated around the schools. … [City Manager] John McDonough and the team deserve the credit for that. I called him at 9 [a.m.] and said, ‘Are we ready?’ He said yes. I know there’s a lot of finger pointing. We were told at 9 [a.m.] that we would get nine-10ths of an inch of snow and the roads will be warm enough to prevent any significant buildup. We were also told this storm was a tough one to track.

“It didn’t prevent us from having the same ice and snow buildup as other metro Atlanta communities. We were not perfect. We want to have a post-mortem [report]. We had a very effective citizen communications program going so people knew what was going on, knew which roads were closed, and updating people by email and Facebook every two hours at a minimum, sometimes more frequently.”

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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