Don’t Shovel Blame On Georgia DOT… Don’t YOU Have A Role In Snowstorm 2014?

I feel badly for people who got stuck. But let's think this through....
I feel badly for people who got stuck. But let's think this through....

(Atlanta — January 29, 2014 — 3:30pm)  It’s about 28 or 29 hours since the snow started falling in Atlanta, and my fellow citizens have started to shovel the blame for being stuck on the highways on the DOT and “The Government.”  


Things are better right in this moment, for a few short hours…. and we’ll freeze over shortly again.


My friends, you’ve seen all kinds of defensive behavior displayed by Georgia DOT and the APD and The Mayor’s Office. They are fielding attacks from left and right. And that defensive behavior is at least half wrong!




Some questions answer yours.


I’ve watched many news reports in detail, on multiple news stations…. and have a different “take” on what really happened. Kinda along the thinking of Edward R. Murrow who said “The obscure we see eventually, but the completely apparent takes longer.”


First, were the folks we elected and appointed doing a good job at preparing, with a kick-butt program of pre- and post-snow action?  It seems to me like they’ve done a pretty good job. They positioned equipment and salted roads. That’s what they could do in advance.


So did they do a “good enough” job dealing with “the crisis” when it hit?  “I think so…yes.” Within hours they were adjusting to what was going on, and taking action. (Thankfully, for a few hours on Wednesday, they weather cooperated, and that’s the biggest help we could have gotten, considering the circumstances.)  


So why were tends of thousands of my friends and fellow citizens stuck on the road?  Because we had a fast snowfall that froze over, and millions of us hit the road at the same time. We had accident blocking roads, we were sliding down the highways, and everything got completed gummed up.


Do I emphasize this folks who got stuck? Hell yeah.  While I was safe, I really felt really badly for so many thousands of people who were stuck in their cars — frustrated, in the freezing cold, having to pee, exhausted, feeling stuck. Kids stuck at schools, scared and upset. My city worrying.


But didn’t we know this was coming? Not all forecasters agreed on  every nuance, and we act as if they should get it right…and then ignore their advice.


If you listened to Chris Holcomb on WXIA, he said we’d get 1-3 inches in Atlanta no matter what, but they said that there would be a greater time on Wednesday (today) which would allow the snow/ice/mush to melt for a few hours. And I don’t know what Markina Brown on WCBS said about the snowfall, but she predicted that temperatures would not rise above the freezing mark on Wednesday.  Nobody had it all exactly “right.”


And were we  expecting weather forecasters and city planners to get it all “exactly right”?  Sorry, the answer is answer is “yes”….and that’s wrong.  We have responsibilities, too.


Do we as a citizens know that when we get snow, that’s followed by freezing, that that screws up your roads?  The answer is “we know.”


Do we know that when it snows we need to drive in low gear, and use our defrosters?   I saw a lot of evidence on the roads on Tuesday showing that we don’t know. But we should.


Do we know that when it snows that snow tires are needed?  Yes “we know”….but do YOU have the on your car, when you’re headed out into a snow/ice forecast?


Do we know that Atlanta doesn't have the equipment needed to clear big snow and ice  “events”? Yes, everybody knows this. So let’s not play “make believe”…let’s get real.


Didn’t we agree to buy lots more equipment to deal with this kind of thing?  Not really…we say “this kind of thing only happens every few years, we can’t throw big money into equipment, when this so rarely happens.


So lemme see now — you knew we had unpredictable weather, as is it’s nature, but a sure series of “icing” predictions…you could planned all sorts of ways, but you did what you did… you know this city can’t do a good job, as hard as it tries, with ice… you’re driving around unsafely, without snow tires…and you want to be “right” that “The Government” is wrong?


Gimme a break. Take responsibility yourself. This is one of those example of “this is just one of those things.”


Let’s make sure our snow/ice plans are as coordinated as possible. Let’s learn lessons and do better. Let’s be smart and stay off the roads. And go home earlier when this happens. And for God's sake, let’s buy some more plows and salt spreaders to hook onto the front of our garbage trucks. And certainly yell at the noodleheads who didn't close schools and government facilities, and businesses that did the same...when they had ample notice of snow/icing. 

Let’s also take responsibility as citizens next time, too…and not shovel all the blame on “The Government” for how WE drove into the snowfall. The Government is us.



Joel Alpert is a marketer, branding specialist, strategic thinker and creative guru in Atlanta. He also teaches workshops and does coaching and personal branding on LinkedIn and Branding.                         
Ann Hudren January 30, 2014 at 01:01 PM
Do citizens realize that roads in extreme cold states are constructed vastly different than our roads here in the south? Do you expect those solutions that work onto their roads to have the same affects on our roads? What about the application methods and timing of those solutions, do you expect the same outcome? Has research been done, on taxpayers dime of course, to determine if our efforts to duplicate snow removal success rates are financially feasible?
janet h russell January 30, 2014 at 01:20 PM
All this energy spent complaining and blaming and the sun is shining again. Last year winter was one day . If you took a long nap on that one day you missed it. Atlanta (city of) and Atlanta (metro) are interconnected by a sprawling car centered economy. Everyone wants to be part of the economy but most do not want to share in the fact that they are part of the problem. Relax, Saturday it will be 60 degrees and raining. Then everyone can complain about "more rain". We are a spoiled group of people who want our own personal world to be perfect while we forget that there is a world bigger than the one we live in.
Ann Hudren January 30, 2014 at 01:26 PM
One last comment, and one that virtually no one seems to be outraged about, is the breakdown of cellular communications in our region on Tuesday. Citizens are complaining about the lack of inaction and communication in our government, yet no one is complaining about the interruption in cellular service on a day that it was most critical for our area. I find that quite surprising few people seem so complacent on the matter since our society seems to live and die by our mobile devices and smartphones. Fortunately, that was the only problem my family and friends had on Tuesday. I truly hope everyone else is safe and moving on from this event. Thank you for the mostly civil commentary. A final farewell and good day to all!
JACQUE January 30, 2014 at 01:41 PM
I've lived down here since 1970 and everytime there is snow or ice you can count on the same outcome. This time it's the fault of the National Weather Service though, if you believe the Mayor of Atlanta and the Governor, for not correctly predicting the weather soon enough. SMH
Barb Norris January 30, 2014 at 01:46 PM
Ann Hudren January 30, 2014 at 01:26 PM "no one is complaining about the interruption in cellular service on a day that it was most critical for our area. "~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I didn't have that problem, nor have I spoken to anyone that did. But how do you expect a cellular service to prevent outages during a weather event? I don't understand what or to whom you make the complaint.
Gail Tefft January 30, 2014 at 03:11 PM
I agree with writer. I was stuck and had to spend the night sleeping on the floor at Sandy Springs city hall (couldn't get over the river). Stupid me! I had no boots, no heavy jacket, no hat. Nothing to eat and nothing to PEE in. I take full responsibility. And I sure as hell won't be caught off guard again! Emergency kit in my car from now on: sleeping bag, no perishable food, water and all in a bucket (for that last bodily function). Can we please stop finding blame. Be thankful for all the kindness that was shown, and the safety shelters. The companies who stayed open for the stranded when they didn't have to. Those poor school employees who stayed and worked hard for our children! The hospital staying for ?triple shifts bc no one could get in to relieve them. Give it a rest!!!
Gail Tefft January 30, 2014 at 03:12 PM
Non! Perishable (darn phone)
Aileen Wyckoff January 30, 2014 at 06:01 PM
I get where the author of the column is coming from, but there is blame to be pinned, and I'd like to start with the school systems. I sooooo get that it is a major deal to close the schools for even a day. But I was awake at 5a.m. Tuesday, and I know that the forecast at that point screamed CLOSE THE SCHOOLS! HAD the schools been closed, much of the nightmare that followed would not have existed. And yes, businesses that insisted on staying open should have been smacked because the writing was on the wall when the snow starting falling. This is Atlanta Metro. We don't DO snow particularly with the scenario already in place, warm roads, bitter cold temps.... Come on! Line up your experts people and LISTEN to them.
T January 30, 2014 at 07:23 PM
Ok Joel and all the others. You should now know that the Governor has finally told the truth and apologized. It was the fault of government and that includes the GDOT system as well. There you have it, quit defending the guilty and admit to yourself, that you were wrong!!!!! Or else deny like Deal did, until it was proven with the facts that he was wrong and government was responsible. All other states are still in AWE of the neglect and poor planning/execution that took place. As posted before, seen this for the 9th time here and it will never change because of ignorance! Today we have a great information network that allowed the country to see how pathetic our govt is in disasters, if it had only been the same in all the prior same situations. To those defending the ignorance, get real and don't be just like them.
Road Scholar January 31, 2014 at 07:37 AM
Interesting comments above. How are roads up north built differently? Did anyone put emergency clothes, water, or food in your cars ? Since ya'll have computers has anyone heard of teleworking? The Gov dropped the ball! Why is Mayor Deal being singled out? What of the County Commissioners and Mayors where people had problems traveling? I left west midtown at 12:45 pm Tuesday and returned home at 2:30pm My friend left at the same time , tried to go to his office in Cobb, aborted that, and arrived home in Douglas County at 12:30am Wednesday. If people had heeded the warnings, this would have been minor. But the Governor dropped the ball. It's called planning!
Road Scholar January 31, 2014 at 08:49 AM
GDOT did pre-treat the roads and bridges. The questions are: 1. Did they do it soon enough-the brine solution must dry before it becomes effective (something I didn't know!), 2. Usually they park dump trucks filled with sand and salt at known hot spots waiting for the snow to accumulate and to hit them first- if placed too soon, cars going fast tend to "throw" the sand and salt to the shoulder;the snow "holds" it in place to be most effective. 3. GDOT has had a reduction in manpower and their responsibility-From 12 500 in the 1980's to 6300 in the early-mid 2000's to....4300 now! Most if not all maintenance and construction work is now done by private contractors. 4. GDOT is only responsible for Interstates and ramps, State Routes, and roads on the National Defense Hwy System (some US routes); all other roads are the county or city's responsibility. 5. After the last storm, the Gov was mad at GDOT so he placed the Head of GEMA in charge- At 2 pm Tuesday he said he was mobilizing the command center. At a news conference that night, a reporter confirmed that statement but asked" If that is so , why was the front door locked and no one there at 3:15 when I was there?-OOPS! The GOV appointed a friend to head GEMA!!!! You now know more than you may want to...but this is why I place the blame on the GOV. He could have stepped in sooner, and declared a state of emergency which would have closed schools much earlier than the beginning of the storm. That would have reduced traffic later. He was either sleeping, getting an award fat a luncheon, or not listening to the head of GEMA!!!! But I must also put blame on the citizens who didn't telework, who didn't have a survivors kit in their cars, and who still cannot drive in snow (early during daylight Tuesday). Once ice formed later, we were toast!
userbronco January 31, 2014 at 09:03 AM
So three days later , Friday morning I-20 is closed due to ice THREE DAYS LATER! The incompetent morons and tards running the DOT can't clear an icy spot ?????
T January 31, 2014 at 09:16 AM
Ok, Ann. One step at a time since apparently you do not wish to study on your own. FACT: GDOT in ALL interviews and comments stated the overpasses and bridges were pretreated but did not get to the roads because waiting till a later point. FACT: Pre treatment can be applied as early as 48 hrs prior to any event and actually properly mixed brine solutions need to be applied to dry roads prior 24-48 hrs. Brine solutions do not freeze above -18 degrees We have done this in the private sector for 20 years on parking lots and private roads etc. So, please feel free to provide your facts to the contrary
T January 31, 2014 at 09:27 AM
Road Scholar, you do realize simple phone calls gets all the extra support needed for any situation. Equipment , personnel etc in times such as this well prior to the event. The money is available so don't throw out the ridiculous where is the money statement. The consequences of doing "nothing" is worse. Been there done that, on many occasions when it is seen that support will be needed. Especially if many of you want to keep using the phrase "we dont have the manpower or equipment".
Tim January 31, 2014 at 10:22 AM
I know the DOT stated they pre treated the bridges and overpasses, but they all seemed covered in ice and snow...either they need to buy a different product, or correct their press releases. Obviously the main cause was everyone leaving at nearly the same time. A second major issue was the ice and snow covered bridges, ramps, hills and overpasses - this needs to be addressed properly before the situation goes down hill, and this is not a huge expense overall compared to baseball, football stadiums etc. We all were very well informed of this weather event prior to it happening, and placing the blame on weather forecasters was a copout.
Aileen Wyckoff January 31, 2014 at 10:35 AM
Tim, I have to disagree with 'the main cause was everyone leaving at nearly the same time'. Definitely contributed to the chaos, but it wouldn't have mattered had there been one car on the road per minute if they all ended up piled up. And the fact is, they didn't all leave at nearly the same time. There were plenty of (non-essential) businesses who insisted their employees stay till closing. This is a problem we only encounter on the very rare occasion. We mostly need common sense employers and school systems.
Dookie Doo January 31, 2014 at 10:39 AM
The entire country is laughing at reed and deal. Rightfully do I might add.
userbronco January 31, 2014 at 12:18 PM
The yards at DOT sat on their @ss and didn lift a finger to do anything How many salt farms did they build? How many spreader trucks do they have ? Why didn't they use it? It's already bought and paid for As for the brine that has to be applied and dry to be effective I guess the morons at DOT forgot to read the instructions huh?
Eric H January 31, 2014 at 01:24 PM
I hope a greater investigation is done as to what exactly was done to pre-treat the roads and then to keep the salting trucks running. GDOT has made a lot of claims about the new equipment they've purchased and we've seen those ugly salt barns they have built everywhere. Yet it looked like they didn't salt or pretreat the roads.
Eric H January 31, 2014 at 01:28 PM
And by roads I mean the interstates. I fully support the notion that we don't need to spend money to be able to plow and salt every street in Metro Atlanta. But I do think from a economic perspective we should be able to keep the interstates passable when its only 2 inches of snow.
Road Scholar January 31, 2014 at 01:48 PM
"The yards at DOT sat on their @ss and didn lift a finger to do anything" A friends son works construction at GDOT and worked during the storm. His job was to drive a pickup behind the salt/sand trucks...why? because the stupid drivers would follow it to closely and damage their cars and then complain- even after they didn't comprehend the sign on the back of the truck! He was on the road at 10 am Tuesday for his 12 hr shift. He was still working at 9 am Wednesday morning. He worked Douglas County and other adjacent state routes west of the river. His dad was trapped on US78 in Austell. He called his son and got an update at 830pm Tuesday. My friend arrived home at 12:30AM Wednesday. He left Midtown at 12:45pm and tried to go back to his office in Cobb. There, that is one account of known working, and if you like I can get more! Dedication? You wouldn't know it if it hit you in your face!
Eric H January 31, 2014 at 05:29 PM
If there were enough salt trucks why weren't they working? would sand work better than gravel? It seems to me sand would absorb some of the moisture from the ice that the rock salt melts and provide traction. Does the City of Atlanta use different material to melt the ice? Because West Peachtree, Spring and Peachtree in Midtown were very clean at 7 pm Tuesday night.
Eric H January 31, 2014 at 05:30 PM
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-january-30-2014/south-parked---two-inches-of-snow Daily Shows funny coverage of the 2 inch snow disaster.
userbronco February 01, 2014 at 08:35 AM
Road scholar So why then, 48 hours after the first snowflake fell, was I-20 still impassable due to ice ????
Road Scholar February 01, 2014 at 10:42 AM
user: Shade! If you remember the temp did not get above freezing for two days., but other snow/ice melted. Those areas where it melted were in the sun. Come to my street now. The front yards of those homes that shade their front yards are still snow covered. I still have 1/4 of my DW with ice/snow because the sun didn't melt it...even with the temp at 50 yesterday, the 3rd day! But I do not know if and when I 20 was salted/sanded. As to the question on whether sand or gravel/cinders are more effective. You must consider what happens when the ice/snow is gne. The sand can be blown.washed away into the drainage systems that empty into the streams and rivers...more environmentally friendly. Whereas the cinders/gravel is larger usually and does not wash/blow as easily and then can become a hazard if thrown into the air by passing vehicles at higher speeds. The gravel has more friction, but there are consequences...and is not as environmentally better. Both do not "absorb" water..it sticks to the surface though.
Ann Hudren February 01, 2014 at 12:06 PM
Our roads are designed to withstand extreme heat as apposed to opposite extreme. Our asphalt is composed of aggregates, petroleum products, etc. that are different from roads in extreme winter weather states. Winter weather states have seen the same conditions for many decades, year after year in many cases of a third or more of a calendar year. We can never expect to see the same results no matter how much we try to mirror their success. Eco friendly solutions may prove to work differently under different circumstances.
Ann Hudren February 01, 2014 at 12:18 PM
The metro Atlanta area has too many layers and forms of government entities that have rarely been forced to work together in emergency situations like we saw in 2011 and this week. Look at Gwinnett County for example, they were virtually the only school system that did not send students home early on Tuesday and were the only one to return Friday for a full day. While one could argue that their conditions were not as extreme as the rest of the region, it is not as if that less than a half inch made a large difference. Why did the largest population county with largest school district not have the traffic debacle and school issues that the entire rest of the metro did?
Tracy White February 01, 2014 at 06:48 PM
People here don't seem to understand how the brine/salt/sand stuff works or when to apply it. The brine was sprayed, the trucks were staged, and then instead of waiting for the trucks to roll and THEN hit the roads, everyone got in their car and left in about one hour. Many of my friends have pointed out that even if asked to WAIT, at least half those folks are the ME FIRSTers and would have left anyway. When I was in NC in the winter, I was worried about my car with no snow tires and me with no practice for years (I did SnowJam '82, which was ClusterFlake Lite). My friends said they just hunker down (actually they told me to go the bar to wait) and when the plows go by they follow them home. They start the plows & sanders as soon as they have accumulation, and they run until it's all gone. People let them go first. DUH! I bought myself some snow cable chains after the incompetency of 2011. Fifty bucks. How many other people put some on their cars? Anyone? Crickets out there?
Road Scholar February 02, 2014 at 09:14 AM
While pavement designs are different, esp since not all have as much granite as we do, the geometrics and features are almost the same. All states use AASHTO design guidelines in doing their design. So, the geometrics are the same. But one difference is our network and topography. The network is not a square grid for our surface streets. Our roads had been "designed" by being trails at the top of hills and to ford rivers and streams at the best place. not exactly the best layout. The topography of Atlanta is quite hilly, not like many coastal areas. The hills.....and valleys are what makes it a challenge in ice and snow.
Boyd Leake February 05, 2014 at 02:44 PM
We paid attention to the weather reports the day before. We sent our children to school on Tuesday making sure they had hats, scarves, gloves, heavy coats and hiking boots. My wife did the same thing. We both listened to the radio reports at work and as they said the weather was getting worse, around 1:00, she headed home from Decatur and I head to get the children from school. took us both about an hour to meet at home. The point of all this is that we listened to the weather reports, planned for the worse and took action before things got too bad.


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