Already the New Year is ringing in snow, heavy rains and storms across the nation. As Metro Atlanta students head back to school this week, brutal winds have blown through causing storm damage, and expected frigid temperatures are ready to hit later in the week for one of the coldest days of this year.
January 2014 is still fresh on the minds of thousands of people who were trapped on frozen highways. Poor planning and a misunderstanding of weather advisories resulted in more than 1500 students stranded at schools and on buses during the 2014 Winter Storm. Metro Atlanta school district leaders have vowed to not have a repeat of that disaster in the event of a winter storm this year.
Metro Atlanta school leaders found themselves in hard place at the end of the 2013 Christmas break. Several districts decided to keep schools closed because of freezing temperatures in early Jan. 2014, but later faced criticism because of that decision. So when forecasters predicted the next cold wave, district leaders took at wait and see attitude before pulling students out of classes again.
Here lies the problem. There have been several views on how the school districts could have missed the National Weather Service’s hazardous weather outlook for most of Georgia which was initially issued, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. According to AJC.com’s Winter Storm 2014 Timeline posted on Wed. Jan. 29, 2014, and which was based on Twitter feeds, websites, and municipalities etc., forecasters called for a Winter Storm Watch. One view is that there was a misunderstanding of the advisories and overnight changes moved in much faster than school leaders expected. School districts had collectively decided to allow student to return to classes on Jan. 28, but leaders soon issues plans for early release. By the time the early release process was underway, thousands of cars were snarled in traffic gridlock, and the snow and ice was accumulating.
There are now a number of winter storm safety nets in place to make sure the nightmare of children sleeping in school gyms and on buses never happens again in Georgia.
Already operational is the Governor’s Severe Winter Weather Warning and Preparedness Task Force. This new task force members are made up of telecommunication company leaders, major corporation leaders, television meteorologists, and elected, appointed, and hired government officials. They are not only charged with developing better group communication guidelines, but recommendations for better dissemination of relevant weather information to the public. Among many other changes, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, GEMA has made upgrades to its Ready Georgia Mobile APP.
For school districts and city/county governments there is now a uniform protocol for addressing and planning for all server weather events. School districts have also created special groups to monitor weather conditions and stay in continual contact with the Nation Weather Service. School leaders are also studying the emergency operations of facilities like Delta Airlines to learn when to make the call to close schools, and or send students home early.
The 2014 Winter Storm was a bad experience for many, but from the negative past comes positive lessons for the present and the future. As School district watch this week’s changing temperatures they stand prepared with a real plan to better protect students and educators.