Preparation, work helped city weather storm’s worst

After the 2011 winter storm, we took an aggressive approach to ensure that our city roadways would be clear and safe in any future weather event. The city spent $2.5 million to purchase additional equipment which was deployed hours before the first snowfall.

While the City of Atlanta cleared 80 percent of priority roads and bridges within 24 hours, there are additional precautions we could have taken to prevent gridlock and ensure the safe departure of our school children. Early dismissals that were timed poorly among our schools, businesses, and government agencies created conditions that prevented residents, visitors, and families from traveling throughout our metropolitan region safely. As mayor, this is a mistake for which I take responsibility.

As the city returns to business as usual, there are three key points worth considering. First, we were not hit with a few inches of snow. We were hit with a few inches of ice, within a very short period of time, during rush hour. As a result, five states declared a state of emergency.

Second, while reports of the storm were broadcast well in advance, the intensity of the storm shifted and we began to respond appropriately. Within 28 hours of the initial severe weather event, our city was functioning. In the future, we will be far more aggressive in responding to storm warnings in a more conservative manner, even if that requires an expanded use of resources which may appear wasteful when a severe storm does not develop. Simply put, we will maintain a state of readiness and be over-prepared.

Third, the city increased its preparations in advance of the storm and played a material role in minimizing the issues we faced as a region. We had pre-treated most major bridges and emergency routes. This meant we saw very little ice accumulation in front of hospitals, fire stations, police precincts, and other emergency responder locations. This allowed us to mobilize units quickly to move people into and out of hospitals and played a vital role in helping us keep our residents safe. This cannot be overstated: people in this storm were frustrated and uncomfortable, but fundamentally safe. As of this writing, there was not one single storm-related fatality in the city of Atlanta; not because we were simply lucky, but because we were better prepared.

Our preparations kept citizens safe, but the unforeseen traffic gridlock throughout the region was frustrating and a failure. Once interstates outside of our city limits were blocked, we worked with our state partners, including the Georgia Department of Transportation, to clear the roads.

We are committed to learning from our mistakes. We have made significant progress in snow preparation over the last three years, and will continue to improve our emergency plans for future storms.

On behalf of the city of Atlanta, I would like to thank all of our city first responders and public servants who worked tirelessly to get our city moving again.