By Nathan Deal
The week began with words like “historic” and “catastrophic.” That’s where the story began, but not where it ended. The weather modeling that led to those alarm bells proved accurate, and we Georgians were ready. Last weekend, nearly two days before the first of two waves of winter storms, state government jumped into action.
On Sunday, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency briefed me on impending weather conditions, using data from local meteorologists. It was time to enact the reforms we had discussed in recent weeks. That day, my office sent the latest weather information to school superintendents and local leaders.
Working with the DOT, the Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia State Patrol, we began mobilizing state personnel and assets toward areas where the storm was predicted to hit hardest. I put the National Guard on warning alert.
Monday gave us a full work day to inform Georgians about the dangerous conditions headed our way, and we could see first thing Tuesday, as snow began to coat North Georgia, that people were heeding the warnings.
Tuesday, we sent a weather warning to cell phones across the state, and light traffic allowed state crews to hit roads with pretreatment, salt and sand needed to keep important thoroughfares open. In recent weeks, we had reloaded road treatment supplies and worked with neighboring states to keep materials coming .
I spent much of Wednesday calling more than 90 mayors and county commissioners in areas affected by the storm. They gave me real time information on where state assistance was most needed.
We knew midweek that the worst of the ice was headed east along the I-20 corridor toward Augusta. By Thursday morning, ice damage had knocked out power in about 80 percent of households in Richmond and Columbia counties. I knew that was where I needed to be, and we moved more state assets into place, such as additional National Guard troops. As I flew east, I saw the landscape move from white snow in the Atlanta area to the glare of ice. Amid the damage, I was reassured to see power trucks plowing
toward problem areas.
By Friday, the vast majority of homes had their electricity back, and power companies promised to have the rest turned on by Saturday.
Throughout the week, numerous state agencies stepped up . GEMA Director Charley English kept me constantly updated on weather reports and emergency response efforts. DHS Commissioner Keith Horton had the Division of Aging dispatch three days’ worth of “Meals on Wheels” to homebound seniors. DNR Commissioner Mark Williams teamed up with Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald to determine where medications were needed at hospitals across the state and then transported them. Gen. Jim Butterworth and the National Guard rescued people in need, such as when a crew drove to Macon to pick up metro Atlanta students attending Georgia Academy for the Blind. Col. McDonough and the State Patrol cleared 587 wrecks, handling 127 injuries and one death as of 9 a.m. Friday.
These stories of Georgians coming together in a time of need were multiplied many times over by neighbors helping neighbors. We turned a week of potential catastrophe into a demonstration of public cooperation, resilience, hard work and determination.
Nathan Deal is Georgia’s governor.