I’m a big believer in planning for the future, but sometimes we need to look at the past to see what we can learn and how we can improve. Two winter storms in two weeks gave us that opportunity. An ice storm on February 12 offered a second chance just two weeks after the metro area completely shut down on January 28. Gwinnett fared better than most in both storms, thanks to luck, geography, and good planning.
The first storm hit on a Monday during the work day. Roads in downtown Atlanta and in nearby parts of metro Atlanta quickly filled beyond capacity as everyone tried to get home. Public safety vehicles were trapped in the gridlock, as were school buses. I was in downtown Atlanta and experienced the situation first hand. As my husband drove our vehicle inching along surface streets to escape from downtown, I was wearing out my cell phone. Road crews were unable to re-treat the trouble spots. Once we reached Gwinnett, travel was better. There were many fewer vehicles attempting to travel the same roads, and we got a little less snow than others. This helped keep our traffic moving, along with good work by our County employees and coordination across departmental lines.
The second storm arrived in two phases, the second bringing heavy icing overnight. This time, everyone took more precautions. Schools and just about everything else remained closed and, in true Southern style, most people stayed home and waited for the ice to melt.
At our Emergency Operations Center in Lawrenceville, staffers worked around the clock to ensure public safety by coordinating transportation, law enforcement, fire, emergency medical, the health department, disaster agencies like the Red Cross, water, and other utilities across Gwinnett’s 437 square miles.
The Gwinnett County Department of Transportation had 18 salt and sand trucks, six plows, and 50 people clearing 2,750 miles of roads as others kept signals working at 680 intersections. Gwinnett Police had more than 3,000 calls in 48 hours, while Gwinnett Fire responded to 883 calls, including medical emergencies, that week. Every possible ambulance and fire truck was on the road during the state of emergency. Other areas were involved too; for example, the Sheriff’s Department made sure that work crews were fed during their shifts. There were scattered power outages when trees fell on lines, but thankfully our water and sewer systems worked normally countywide.
We all put into practice a lot of things we already knew. Don’t take unnecessary risks during a storm. Cancel non-essential activities early. Stock your vehicle and home with emergency supplies, stay off the roads if you can, use safety precautions if the power goes out, check on your neighbors, and make sure your insurance is paid up!
As the winter comes to an end, it is worth noting that tornado risk here is highest in March and April, and the Atlantic hurricane season is June through November – just what you want to hear, I know. But if we remember what we learned this winter, we are better prepared to make it through future storms of all types.
I salute all our hard-working first-responders, everyone who works backstage to keep basic services operating, and all who found ways to help themselves and others stay safe and survive the stormy times. You make me so proud of Gwinnett County!