So what did we learn? First, Cobb is full of great people: Firemen and policemen (and women) faithfully provided any assistance that they could many hours past their shifts outside the scope of their regular duties.
People picked up their neighbor’s kids. Walking high school kids pushed vehicles out of gutters. School principals, staff and their neighbors improvised dinners and stayed overnight at schools until all the kids went home.
Some gas stations, grocery stores and pizza chains stayed open and kept serving everyone with a smile — and often discounts or freebies. Communities and neighborhoods came together. People remained calm, showed concern and looked out for each other. Those available communicated, organized and improvised quickly to help others.
The bad news is that we were embarrassingly unprepared. We should not have been. Snow and other “disasters” are hardly unprecedented. From 1950 to 2010, the area within 50 miles of Cobb has had more than 7,000 thunderstorms and more than 4,000 hailstorms, 111 tornadoes, 18 tropical storms, 26 winter storms, 22 ice storms, 64 instances of heavy snow, 717 floods, five hurricanes, strong winds, wildfires, plane crashes, etc.
Let’s not forget unlikely events like war and earthquakes, which affected this region in 1864 and 1812 respectively. Any and all of those could occur again. We could have been better prepared not only for snow, but other natural or man-made disasters.
Additionally, this snow was a very low impact disaster. What if the storm had lasted longer? What if fallen trees had cut off neighborhoods? What if any combination of gas, electricity, TV, radio or telephones/cell phones had shut down? How would people communicate? Who would feed and/or look after the elderly living on their own? Who would cut down trees and report water/gas/electricity problems?
How would people relay this information to Disaster Centers and utility companies? How would public safety and other public officials communicate with the people?
Where are the public policies and standard operating procedures to guide people about what to do?
The answer? Everyone needs a plan. Whether it is the State of Georgia, Cobb County, various cities like Marietta and Smyrna, neighborhoods, schools, elderly care facilities, hospitals, businesses, families or individuals, all should have plans predicated around any combination of transportation, utilities and communication shutting down. All should have extra food and water at home and in their vehicles.
Neighborhoods should have shared lists of contact information — email, cellphones, etc., and the local schools or elderly care facilities should have contacts with adjacent neighborhoods and local stores.
Cobb County should have a standing disaster information wiki with road closure/road condition data citizens can update. All public safety vehicles should be equipped with snow chains, traffic cones, sand, etc. About $200 per vehicle could buy two snow chains ($70), four safety cones ($70), 150 lbs. of sand ($10), 80 lbs. of salt ($20), and 33 sq. feet of shingles ($25). Schools and businesses should also stock some of the same plus food, water and other emergency supplies.
Disaster preparation is not an extremely complex problem. But we must insist that our dedicated elected officials create a task force to rapidly work out SOPs to respond to very broad problems (transportation, utilities and communication shutdowns).
Next, task forces can address more specific problems (tornadoes, wildfires, etc.). Or we’ll be facing chaos over and over again and maybe even soon. Anyone remember how back-to-back snow storms in December 2010 and January 2011 each shut metro Atlanta down for several days?
Narayan Sengupta owns a website development firm, is past president of the Smyrna Rotary Club and is the author of several books about World Wars I and II.