Emails make GEMA director sound nonchalant about impending storm

The day before a paralyzing snow began falling on metro Atlanta roads last week, a top deputy to Georgia Emergency Management Director Charley English told him he might have to postpone a trip to a Washington D.C. homeland security meeting.

“Still a lot of possibilities with this storm,” Gary Kelley, the state’s homeland security deputy director, wrote English.

“Sure is warm outside,” English responded.

“Yeah, I hope it stays that way, but unfortunately, I am not optimistic,” Kelley wrote.

Kelley’s pessimism was well founded, and by the next day, the city was gridlocked by a crush of traffic, ice and snow. And English became one of the key faces of a state unprepared to handle what to much of the nation was a mild winter storm.

Emails released to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution show a GEMA leader clearly caught unaware by the storm’s potential impact on Atlanta.

Asked Monday whether he took the storm response seriously, English declined to comment.

“I really appreciate you giving me a chance but… I better not, I’ve probably said enough,” English said.

In one email obtained by the AJC, Kelley warned English on the Sunday before the storm of a band of snow stretching south of Atlanta. English’s reply: “Wondered what NWS (National Weather Service) was saying. Had heard some broadcast meteorologists predicting something.”

When Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff began expressing concerns about the coming storm Monday afternoon, English responded by sending “briefing slides” with weather information. “I think after the first few slides they are pretty informative. Call if you need me and I will see you tomorrow.”

GEMA officials ramped up plans Monday to staff a command center, starting either at 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. Tuesday, to deal with expected ice storms in South Georgia. By 5 p.m., Tuesday, traffic had long ago come to a halt on Atlanta freeways.

GEMA’s “one minute weather outlook” sent at 7 a.m. Tuesday warned “significant ice accumulation will create dangerous driving conditions for motorists, including first responders.”

By Tuesday at 11 a.m. he was getting emails from west Georgia offices of icy roads and wrecks. At noon, he wrote this:

“Sorry for the delay, dealing with this winter weather “thing” …. schools closed in Savannah due to freezing rain?? a rare occurrence. Will be all better by Thursday.”