Who’s to blame for ice jam mess?

Terry Garlock's picture

You may not like my take on last week’s winter storm debacle.

On Tuesday afternoon, the winter storm stranded drivers in and around Atlanta for untold hours in gridlocked traffic as they tried to rush home, marooning many in their cars overnight with countless kids unexpectedly stuck in schools overnight because the roads were impossibly clogged.

Even in quiet little Peachtree City, my daughter’s 10-minute drive home from McIntosh High School took her nearly two hours.

The immediate televised search for the guilty reminded me of watching news reports the morning after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005 and wondering how long the media would take to point the finger of blame at President George W. Bush. He was blamed in less than two hours for a monumental natural disaster and the flooding of a city brilliantly built below sea level.

Last week the blame targets were Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Governor Nathan Deal, and Charley English, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Mayor Reed is sensitized to criticism by his national ambitions, I believe, and his dodging, deflecting and explaining boundaries and authority limits did little to satisfy reporters with hours of TV to fill and an angry viewing public expecting answers, and heads.

Gov. Deal, clearly worried about his re-election bid, danced, equivocated and then apologized — like a ninny, if you ask me, because he could have manned up to say, “When everybody and their dog hits the road from businesses, schools and government offices and every other place at the same time, the system is going to lock up. That’s life!”

One of Deal’s opponents in the race for governor, Dalton Mayor David Pennington, took the political gift of the situation to say Deal failed miserably, which makes Pennington an idiot in my book for implying the governor could have prevented the ordeal.

Charley English seems to be in real trouble, especially since GEMA offices were dark and deserted at the height of the mess Tuesday afternoon. A charitable view would suggest nobody knew there would be a crisis until gridlock happened, and then it was too late. Maybe English and his staff should have been on top of the situation just in case, but I confess I don’t know enough about GEMA to judge.

I am fairly certain, though, there were not very many among the angry drivers who blamed themselves.

The national media got it wrong last week, too, portraying Atlanta as too incompetent to handle a mere two inches of snow. As you and I know, the snow wasn’t so bad, but the sub-freezing temperature turning roads to ice was half of the problem.

For the other half, we turn to comic strips of the past, wherein that great philosopher, Pogo, had occasion to declare, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

My guess is the disillusioned commuters angrily asking why schools did not close on Tuesday might be the same ones who demanded to know why schools did close a week prior when all that resulted was cold temperatures, and they surely are the same ones who decided to drive to work in Atlanta despite the winter storm forecast that foretold the possibility of getting stuck in miserable traffic.

Those demanding to know why sand and salt trucks didn’t do more to make roads passable may not know DOT trucks did in fact do some advance spreading, but by the time everyone and their dog tried to drive home early Tuesday afternoon at the same time, the roads locked up tighter than Dick’s hatband and trucks that can’t move can’t spread.

It wouldn’t have mattered if Atlanta had 10,000 trucks and mountains of salt and sand if they can’t move, but we do like to blame someone when things go wrong.

You and I should realize not every problem can be solved; some must be endured. Anyone who reflects for a moment should realize that our civilized commuting life works only because we squeeze into a pattern of traffic balance that is tested every working day at rush hour when too many drivers need to move at the same time. When unusual circumstances push even more concentrated traffic on the roads, the system breaks down quickly.

We should be prepared to fend for ourselves.

If you don’t know how to drive on ice and suddenly find yourself spun around and stuck off the road, facing the same traffic you were part of a moment ago, who is going to pull you out?

Every car or truck inching past is just as anxious as you to make it home, unwilling to stop for you or the other thousand unlucky stuck drivers they pass. How is your AAA tow truck going to reach you even if they didn’t have 500 calls ahead of yours?

If you have kids in the car and wonder how long your gas tank will keep the heater going, whose job is it to keep the gas tank full and blankets in the car just in case in the winter?

While stuck and waiting for a miracle, you will have plenty of time to curse the mayor or governor, or, heaven forbid, to blame yourself for not heeding the forecast and staying home safe.

If the forecast of a strong winter storm didn’t prompt you to fill up with gas, whose fault is it when your engine dies after the last drop of fuel in gridlocked traffic?

Whose fault if your gas needle bangs on empty when the gas stations are closed, their tanks drained dry by unprecedented demand?

Even my 16-year-old driver knows when unusual circumstances put too many drivers on the road, it is her responsibility to not let her gas tank fall below half full. That’s on every driver, no excuses.

Never mind self-reliance, though. Generations of reporters and TV news viewers have been conditioned to believe our protected and comfortable lifestyle is a birthright, and when things go wrong our government has a duty to take care of us.

And so, indignant reporters demanded answers. Mayor Reed and Gov. Deal took the bait and promised to tighten the controls to make sure this does not happen again, thereby perpetuating the modern American imperative of improving things until they collapse of their own weight.

Now officials will press the alarm button too early because that’s what it takes in America to avoid blame, like the TSA’s response in 2002 to Richard Reid, aka the “shoe bomber,” in requiring every airline passenger since then to remove their shoes, accomplishing next to nothing to promote safety but rendering TSA blameless for exploding shoes even while they turn a blind eye to Middle Eastern male passengers lest they be accused of profiling.

I doubt Atlanta’s future hair trigger to close schools when snow is forecast will be a good thing. I would rather have officials use their best judgment whether closure makes sense rather than jump to closure to avoid criticism. I hope that illness doesn’t spread to Fayette County.

What would I do if I were king? Two things.

First, a little planning might help if officials can keep it simple and stop themselves from getting carried away. They could agree how to centralize crisis decision-making and coordination among agencies. The school system could plan how to handle kids stuck at school in emergencies, including parent communication. Officials could plan a system of declared staggered departure for all workers and schools when weather calls for dashing home, but good luck with honor system compliance.

Second, I’d encourage everyone to grow up and realize government’s job is not to take care of us; that’s our job.

Winter happens every dang year, bringing the risk of bad storms and horrible traffic. It’s up to you and me to think ahead, up to you and me to stay home when we don’t want to risk being trapped in awful traffic.

Whatever government does or does not do, some things are simply up to you and me.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is terry@garlock1.com.]

tgarlock's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Gort, so long as you disagree with my views . . .

. . . I am reassured of being on the right track, so thanks for the confirmation.

Terry Garlock

Gort's picture
Joined: 07/28/2009
Tgarlock, I’m glad I was able

Tgarlock, I’m glad I was able to help you out.

Gort's picture
Joined: 07/28/2009
Blaming the victims of

Blaming the victims of ‘snowjam’ for getting stuck on the highway is just bull crap. It’s up to the State of GA to keep those interstate traffic lanes open and they failed. They failed again when they did not warn the public in time to keep off the highways.

I watched our Republican Gov Deal’s press conference, and his GEMA director, Charley English, was talking like an opium eater. Gov Deal didn’t even agree with him. Gov Deal tried to point the finger at ‘local meteorologist’ for the fiasco and when that failed, he finally offered a conditional apology.

Me personally, I heard on the news we had a storm coming in so I went shopping for supplies and the car didn’t leave the driveway until Friday. But, I no longer work for people that were quick to tell me, “Unless the roads are closed, we expect you to show up for work or we might have to find someone else to take your place!”

NUK_1's picture
Joined: 12/17/2007
Victims? Really?

I don't want to be a victim of having my taxes jacked way up to afford multi-millions to keep all interstate/state highways open and hassle-free in GA 24/7 for an event that rarely occurs. Besides, it's not even possible no matter how much money you spend down here in the south.

There are no "victims" here. Atlanta and the metro area has a humongous gridlock problem when things are sunny and dry outside......are the motorists stuck on the downtown connector "victims" too every day of the week? Is it up to the State of GA to fix it? Good luck with that.

Maybe if MARTA didn't suck so badly there would be people off the roads and not on the highways. Oh wait.....they shutdown too.

mudcat's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
I did work for somebody like that once

From the minute they gave that "Unless the roads are closed" speech, I started looking for another job and found one right here in town. Those petty little dictators that put their stupid business above the safety and welfare of their employees (yes that is their right) can just go pound sand.

That being said, if I still worked at the airport, I would have gone to work last Tuesday, paid careful attention to the weather radar and then taken off using whatever excuse no later than 11AM and taken my kids out of school. I am responsible for my own safety and that of my family.

In fact I was watching that radar last Tuesday and called to warn a couple of friends. They left work right away and were home before noon.

Earl E Bird
Earl E Bird's picture
Joined: 02/04/2014
Mr Garlock and the (Local)Government

While I do agree with a lot of what you're saying, especially the part about people relying too much on government, I also think that the government has a responsibility not to make things worse for us. For example and I'll stay local. Why was the decision made to close schools a half hour early that Tuesday? If you don't think bad weather is coming why close early? If you do then don't open schools or stay just long enough to count the day and send the kids home. A half hour is a decision based on indecision and fear and accomplishes little. Parents still had to make plans as how to deal with the kids and an adjusted schedule whether it's a half hour or several hours. And why were our buses on the road last Friday? No kids were in school and the decision whether or not these days need to be made up has not been made yet. Wasn't the fuel used a waste of taxpayers money? What if one of these buses had been involved in an accident? Who is making these decisions? Should the bus drivers have planned for this? How would you recommend that they did? Yes we do need to be better prepared ourselves. But the government needs to at least try to stay out of the way.

secret squirrel
secret squirrel's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Earl E Bird missed this worm

As Garlock points out, and most of us, with the exception of Mr. Beverly's own Joe the Plumber a/k/a Joyce Fulp and the people to whom Garlock refers, knew there was a snow/ice event coming our way. And knew it for a few days at the least.

So who makes the decisions for the safety of your children when you, not the school board or superintendent, have ample information that something's afoot? Did you really need to be told not to keep your kids at home? Does the school system making a mistake somehow ameliorate the snow and ice from forming?

You knew the weather was coming yet you, as a parent (I assume), still sent them off to school?

This was a once-every-5-or-10 year event. And everyone gets so emotional and upset and shakes fists at the sky while condemning everyone except the person most responsible for you being where you are: you. Perhaps you need the government to help you stay out of your own way... no?

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Joined: 04/23/2007
The myth Mr. Garlock

that government can solve our problems is......well, a myth.

America was built on self reliance, a quality that seems to be in short supply these days. I wonder why?

mudcat's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Government is hyper-sensitive this afternoon, however

GEMA is open for business and the sand trucks are standing by. 32 degrees with possible snow flurries. And nothing will happen and the press will skewer them for wasting resources. No only is government not the solution, government can't win. Personal responsibility is really the only way to go.

Speaking of which, I am truly glad that local Realtor Kay Fulp is safely home, but was that lengthy narrative a wise marketing move on her part? Think about it, do you want to put your home up for sale with someone that doesn't think to take her coat for a winter time trip to Cobb County? That just sort of plays into the stereotype of a scatter-brained housewife selling real estate part time - and I know for a fact she is not that at all. The guy that founded the other Fayette newspaper always said any publicity is good as log as they spell your name correctly, but I'm not sure that's true with Kay's adventure.

secret squirrel
secret squirrel's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
mudcat's on to something

The printing of the Great Kay Fulp tragedy as it will surely be known is just another stick in Cal's curmudgeonly "I hate government" front-porch rants. "Please send us your instances of over-regulation, no matter how minor, meaningless, insignificant so we can point a crooked old finger at the government like those damned kids who walk on my lawn!!"

So when Kay, who may well be still recovering in this hospital from her horrible experience, takes time to write such a underwhelmingly charming missive, Cal pounces like a frugal spinster on a coupon, seizing the opportunity to again let us know just how unfortunate we all are... in needing protection from ourselves, just not by the government.

Robert W. Morgan
Robert W. Morgan's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Fulp Tragedy is a serious problem

Sure enough there should have been more personal responsibility like being prepared or not going at all, but that is second-guessing. Can't have that. Ok, some second-guessing, how come you have your I-phone or whatever connects you to Facebook, but you don't have a coat or boots? Are you kidding me? Weather forecast hard to get on your I-phone?

I think the reason the rescue vehicles didn't show up was because of all the cars and trucks on the road. And they could not move because of all the cars and trucks in front of them. And those cars and trucks could not move because of the snow and ice which wasn't melted by the salt and sand trucks that didn't come out until after everyone was on the road.

Hey Kay, stay off the road. No need to be using up road space that could have been used by the salt and sand trucks. How hard is that to understand? My goodness, Realtors - "I'm an Independent Contractor". What crap. Got one for mayor. Hope she makes better decisions.

That being said, I am glad you made it home safely.

G35 Dude
G35 Dude's picture
Joined: 02/15/2006
RWM-Fulp "Tragedy"

Looks like Ms Fulp is one smart cookie. I mean look at all the free publicity she's getting for her mistake. How many others screwed up and we never heard about it?

Robert W. Morgan
Robert W. Morgan's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Not so sure I'd want that kind of publicity

Hardly a puff piece, but it sure was long enough.

BTW, snow forecast tomorrow PM and Tuesday AM. Put a coat, hat, shovel and some energy bars in your car. You have been warned even if the blameless Democratic Mayor of Atlanta or that demonic Republican Gov. of Georgia don't say a word about it. Can you believe how the AJC slants their coverage? Politically? On a snowstorm? Whoever that whiney liberal chick was on here that complained about Cal not offering liberal opinion pieces - go read the AJC honey - get your liberal fix there.

mrobinson_ptc's picture
Joined: 05/21/2013

I heard a funny comment yesterday on Fox News at lunch (not on this topic)...

"...like people who tout family values until they actually have to spend time with their families..."

People will gripe about the government until they need it....and then blame the government for failing them.

Personal responsibility is what was needed here, but we've built a culture, like Terry says, of blaming and using others as excuses for our own decisions.

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