Valdosta Daily Times

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February 1, 2014

Atlanta rebounding from winter storm

ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Friday outlined steps he said he plans to take to improve the city’s emergency preparedness after a winter storm brought the metro area to a halt.

Reed said he has ordered a comprehensive review of the city’s response to Tuesday’s snowfall to see what worked and what didn’t. He also will convene a working group to come up with best practices for emergency preparedness, including a protocol for dismissals during severe weather.

His remarks came as temperatures in Atlanta climbed above 50 degrees, melting much of the remaining snow and ice. Traffic was moving normally on the region’s interstates and local roads, though a state of emergency remained in effect through Sunday night. While many school districts were still closed, state and many private employees returned to work. Police were encouraging motorists to reclaim cars abandoned at the height of the storm.

Reed also plans to recruit and hire an emergency management executive for the city to implement the working group’s recommendations and to be responsible for the city’s readiness in any kind of emergency situation. That person will help coordinate with other regional leaders, he said. Reed will also request that the city council appropriate funds to expand Atlanta’s pretreating and de-icing capabilities, he said.

The mayor has also reached out to the Weather Channel, which is headquartered in neighboring Cobb County, to participate in his working group and help Atlanta become a model for how to create a “weather-ready city,” he said. And he plans to collaborate more closely with officials at the airport who are constantly gathering detailed weather information.

Reed made the comments at a long-planned speech at the Atlanta Press Club.

Snow began falling in Atlanta around midday Tuesday and, within hours, the metropolitan area was in gridlock with tens of thousands of people stranded on icy roads. Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal have come under fire for the way the city and state handled the situation.

The governor offered his clearest apology in a news conference Thursday, saying his administration didn’t plan well enough and pledging a full review of the state’s emergency planning.

Georgia’s top emergency planner described the storm as a “winter weather ‘thing”’ in an email he sent Tuesday just as the snow started falling around Atlanta.

“Will be all better by Thursday,” Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Charley English wrote in an email released to The Associated Press under Georgia’s open records law.

English was way off. By Wednesday, he was updating the governor’s office on the number of children stranded on school buses and explaining how helicopters were ferrying food and supplies to areas with stranded people. On Thursday, English publicly apologized for making what he described as a “terrible error.”

State Sen. Jason Carter, a Democrat running for governor, said Friday that everyone agrees the state’s response to this week’s snow storm was a failure. Carter said he was not seeking to place blame and wanted to wait for the results of various reviews that have been called for by Deal.

“It’s the second time in three years that it’s happened,” Carter said. “My focus and everyone’s focus needs to be on how to fix the problem with respect to emergency management.”

Reed said there are things the city should have done differently but said his administration was not sitting idly by.

“The notion that we were standing still is just patently not the case,” Reed said.

Many of the wrecks and much of the gridlock highlighted by national news media were outside of his jurisdiction. City vehicles began pretreating roads at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and most major arteries within the city limits were passable by 6 p.m. that day, he said.

He stopped short, though, of criticizing other political leaders in the region, saying that would be counterproductive because they all need to come together now to prepare better for the future.

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