Evacugeddon – The Day Atlanta Gridlocked

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Were you in the gridlock in Georgia, or do you have a story to tell from other Southern states hit by this unusual weather pattern?  Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.

amabryAt Firestorm, our headquarters are in Roswell, Georgia, a northern suburb of Atlanta.  For some of our team, the trek home on Tuesday mirrored that of so many in Atlanta; 15 minute drives turned in to hours. Marchet Butler spent 5 hours on the road with a few scary moments, and ended up walking the last part home. 

Jack Healey’s wife, a school teacher for special needs children, spent the night alone at her school, tracking reports of children stranded on buses until 2 a.m., and fellow teachers who finally reached home (if at all that evening) at 3 a.m.  Hutch Hodgson reports that employees of his wife’s company took up to 9 hours to arrive home.  All of our team were lucky.

As most have now read, thousands of Atlanta commuters were stranded for hours and hours in their cars, on the floors of local businesses who took them in, in the homes of generous strangers, because of an appalling lack of foresight; because the city’s schools and government offices chose not to close early in advance of the storm, and because an order to mass evacuate employees of all employers was issued as a single directive.

Years ago I lived in Columbus, Ohio.  I was at a client site delivering a workshop the morning of a threatened snow storm.  The client site was one of the larger downtown employers with – as I recall – about 9600 employees.  The storm arrived a bit earlier than predicted, and due to a change in temperature, fell as ice rather than the predicted snow.   The City began to coordinate evacuations carefully with all major employers in the area, and staggered the release of employees; they knew that if all employees of not only my client, but those of Federal, State, County and all other businesses evacuated at once, the ensuing gridlock would endanger people’s lives.  It still took me 3 hours to travel 9 miles, but traffic moved and no one was stranded overnight.

While we all understand that the decisions made during critical times may often be second-guessed, it is better to be second-guessed for doing everything possible to protect citizens, rather than doing too little with the thought that you may be criticized for overreacting.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in a Thursday news conference he will take responsibility for the disastrous response to Winter Storm Leon in metro Atlanta, which left thousands of drivers unable to navigate icy roads and forced many to abandon or sleep in their vehicles.

ATL1The Governor told reporters that there will be an internal review of all agencies, and offered condolences to the families of children who had to spend Tuesday night at their school, or even worse, in a school bus stranded on the roads.

More than 50 shelters opened across the state to provide shelter for people stranded or gridlocked on the roads. Some Home Depot locations, supermarkets and drug stores also stayed open Tuesday night to provide shelter for stranded motorists. Good Samaritans delivered hot beverages, food, and gasoline, and coordinated efforts via social media.

Airlines cancelled or delayed almost 5,000 flights on Wednesday.

Next week, another storm is ready to make its way across the country.  This could cause travel headaches during morning rush Thursday in the Twin Cities and during afternoon/evening rush in Chicago and Milwaukee.

Friday into Saturday, another wave of snow, as well as a band of sleet and freezing rain, is expected to spread from the central Plains to the mid-Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, western, central and Upstate New York, and parts of New England.

City Managers in snow and ice risk areas must be ready to address the public’s needs in key areas:

  • Access to Food/Water
  • Access to source of heat
  • Continuity of Government Services, if prolonged
  • Ice jams potentially leading to flooding
  • Motorists trapped in their cars
  • Collapsed buildings
  • Major traffic accidents
  • Interruption of critical infrastructure systems
  • People isolated in their residences
  • Fire during winter storms presents a great danger because water supplies may freeze and firefighters may not be able to access a scene
  • Alternate heating sources may not be safe or may not be used properly leading to injury or death
  • Death and heart attacks may increase due to physical overexertion and the exposure to cold weather

Special Attention:

  • Long-term Care Facilities
  • Health Care Facilities
  • Schools
  • Closed roads
  • Lack of external support
  • Disruption to movement and supply of critical goods and services


  • Warming centres with cots and food supplies
  • Need for generators and fuel for essential services
  • Need for heating equipment
  • Emergency shelter for stranded travellers
  • Responding to building collapse emergencies
  • Search and rescue
  • Drop in/reception centres (e.g. hot meals and update on emergency situation)

For the State of Georgia, as of January 30, 2014:

On Thursday, residents and officials began the tedious process of matching up drivers with their abandoned cars on interstates and side streets.  The State Patrol will begin towing abandoned cars on interstates at 9 PM tonight (Learn more about this at the Georgia Department of Public Safety)

  • Gov. Nathan Deal today extended the state of emergency for two additional days, through Sunday night, to assure that all necessary resources are available for state agencies and local governments to clear roads and all other winter storm-related obstacles.
  • The State Patrol will begin at 9 tonight to tow vehicles left in areas where they are posing a public safety hazard; this applies only to the interstates. The state will cover the cost of towing – but ONLY in cases where the towing was directed by the state. Abandoned cars deemed to not pose a safety risk will remain for owner pickup through Sunday night.
  • Gov. Deal has directed state government employees to report to their workplaces at regular hours tomorrow, unless doing so puts them in harm’s way. Employees who think it’s not safe to travel from their location need to contact their supervisor.

These days, I live in South Carolina – unusually icy at present. Charleston, SC experienced their own version of Atlanta’s evacuation gridlock, during a hurricane evacuation a few years back.  They’ve taken steps to assure this does not happen again, but as always, there are no guarantees.

We’d love to help the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia conduct their Hot Wash. Let’s never allow this to happen again: PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®

Were you in the gridlock in Georgia, or do you have a story to tell from other Southern states hit by this unusual weather pattern?  Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Spent 5 hours on the road yesterday—a few scary moments. Ended up walking the last part home
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