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Snowpocalypse 2014
Martha Anne McCarty, Director, Thomaston-Upson Emergency Management Agency

THOMASTON - Upson County fared relatively well through the winter storm of January 28-30, 2014. We had no significant impacts from power outages. There were multiple cars that ended up in ditches, and a few accidents with only minor injuries, that can be credited to icy road conditions. There was one structure fire south of town, but it involved an out building, not a residence.

Our average snowfall accumulation was in the 2.5 inch range, but I did take note of a couple of places that had almost 4 inches on the ground – Salem Community and the Delray area west of the airport.

Community leaders, school officials, utility providers, industry and public safety met in conference with National Weather Service on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, getting the latest information directly from the source. The face-to-face meetings allowed all involved to voice their concerns and to interact with one another regarding deteriorating weather conditions. These meetings were very positive and cooperative both days.

State resources, as needed, were readily available through GEMA. Georgia DOT District III personnel were spread thin across many counties, yet they provided the resources to get road mix spread on all state routes (that’s 150 lane miles) on the four state highways in Upson County, as well as ensuring access to Upson Regional was clear, and MidGA Ambulances had a clear path to access Barnesville Highway. They also ensured EMA rescue units had access to W. Gordon St. Georgia Forestry Commission had chainsaw strike teams on standby.

The sleet and rain that fell most of the day prepared the ground for the icing that we experienced. Once the snow finally began, it increased in intensity and covered that frozen layer. As people got out and drove on it, the ice layer just compacted and grew more treacherous. It didn’t take long for local grocery and convenience stores to see empty bread shelves, as folks attempted to beat the slippery conditions.

The Emergency Operations Center was staffed from approximately 1 PM Tuesday to 2 PM Wednesday. Volunteers assisted in handling fire departments ‘back end’ radio traffic and requests to free up our 911 Dispatch Center from possible overwhelming 2-way radio traffic volumes. Those volunteers ensured that EMA Rescue Vehicles were prepared to roll for any needed assistance anywhere in Upson County. Thankfully, we did not have to respond to any calls.

What can we learn from such an event? Take stock of how we fared this winter storm, Snowpocalypse 2014. There is an old saying ― Failure to plan is a plan for failure.

Ask yourself, “Just how prepared am I?”

You should have a written Family Disaster Plan, complete with communication specifics. You should have disaster kits for your home and vehicles. You should know how to turn off the utilities to your residence. You should ensure that you have adequate heat sources and any necessary fuel supply, a supply of ready to eat foods, stored water, and an adequate supply of prescriptions. And don’t forget the pets.

Do you have renter's insurance? Or homeowner's insurance? When was the last time you reviewed it for adequacy of coverage?

When storms approach, is you vehicle ready? Full tank of gas? Good tires? A bag of oil sorb or clay kitty litter to use for traction, if needed? Snack foods, maybe a blanket or 2 stored in the trunk?

Is your phone charged completely, or do you have a battery back-up for it? Do you monitor local broadcast radio for local information? Do you have a weather radio? Have you signed up for Everbridge Alerts?

Is travel in this type of weather event really necessary? If so, your speed should be WELL below the posted speed limit. You should use a lower gear to traverse steeper grades. You should keep a much greater distance between you and the next vehicle in front of you. Pick-up trucks would get around better if they had additional weight in the truck bed.

Suppose you are dependent on electricity to operate durable medical equipment. Do you have an emergency plan in place in order to effectively deal with problems like a power outage? No one knows just how long power may be out. There should be back up oxygen tanks for those on home oxygen concentrators. If electricity is an absolute necessity, you should invest in a generator to operate the medical equipment should power be off for an extended time. And never use open flame candles for light sources. Your house WILL burn down when an inquisitive toddler, or even a cat, knocks that candle over.

If the temps are going to be so low that you know pipes will freeze and burst, keep a little trickle of water dripping steadily form the faucet. If it’s going to be that cold, fill the tub with water for use for sanitation purposes. You can heat it up for bathing, and a bucket nearby will fill the toilet tank.

Plan on using a grill to cook? Make sure you do not use it inside. The carbon monoxide fumes are deadly. And keep it in the open. Flames can set a porch on fire.

Individual preparedness is an individual’s responsibility. In the event of a disaster, whether natural or man-made, each person should be able to take care of themselves and family for 72 hours. It is not the purpose of Emergency Management or local governments to provide for any individual’s preparedness. EMA guides the community in learning how to prepare and facilitates the response during and after an event happens. Citizens have to be able to prepare ahead of time for themselves.

To that same end, we should be very aware of vulnerable persons near us. Maybe you know of someone who doesn’t have a warm place to stay in situations like this. Notify authorities so that assistance can be arranged for them. There is a willingness to assist from many resources in our community, but the help can’t be given if the need is not known.

We should go back to being good neighbors. Check on the elderly, be they family, friends or neighbors. Ensure that they have appropriate and adequate resources in times like these.

The Ready Georgia website has a wealth of information on how you can prepare for disasters and emergencies. Red Cross also has a vast amount of preparedness information, too. Google either of them for more information.

Let’s stop and give thanks for what we do have, and that we did not face quite the 'Snowpocalypse' that Metro ATL has endured. I hope each and every one who wished for snow had their 'thirst quenched' for a while, and also, that we all learned how to handle emergencies that impact our well-being and that of our families and our communities.

Winter is not over, and Spring is around the corner. Get prepared now.

If you would like a speaker from EMA to provide a program for your school, neighbor group, organization or church, please contact Upson EMA at 706/647-5600 or 706/741-1407, or via email, EMA@upsoncountyga.org.

Submitted 1.31.14