ATLANTA — A newly created task force designed to improve the way Georgia responds to severe weather emergencies will include one voice from Clayton County.
Gov. Nathan Deal announced Monday that he has appointed state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) to his “Severe Winter Weather Warning and Preparedness Task Force.” The governor created the 32-member task force, which will review responses to weather emergencies, in the wake of the winter storm that wrought havoc across metro Atlanta last week.
The group is made up of officials from the governor’s office, local school systems, state agencies, the National Weather Service, TV news meteorologists, MARTA, Georgia Power, Delta Air Lines, businesses, phone service providers, Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia General Assembly.
“For my name to be spoken in the same breath with these important people is very humbling,” Glanton said. “It also attests to my desire to serve not only the citizens of Clayton County, but all of the people of Georgia.”
Roads in metro Atlanta were brought to a standstill on Jan. 28 when ice caused by Winter Storm Leon’s snowfall made driving difficult for thousands of drivers who got stranded for hours. The situation, which included students getting stranded at their schools, garnered attention from media outlets far beyond Georgia’s borders.
“Unfortunately, Atlanta made national and international news in a negative way because of the way this storm was handled,” Glanton said.
Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took the brunt of public and media criticism for days after the storm hit, particularly because the region was hit hard by a similar snow storm in 2011.
Hence Deal’s decision to create this task force.
The panel has been put together to come up with short- and long-term solutions on how the state can better respond to weather crises. The governor’s office said the committee will meet in an open forum setting and is expected to present a report with recommendations for improvements within 60 days.
The task force will also be responsible for implementing some new reforms Deal unveiled Monday.
Those reforms include the creation of an alert system based upon the “Amber Alerts” system so hazardous weather warnings can be sent to cellphones and requiring the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to consult with local meteorologists on weather predictions.
Other reforms are increased email communications with school superintendents about weather forecasts and an updated state emergency cellphone map that provides drivers with information about alternate transportation routes and shelters.
“We made reforms after the 2011 storm on how we treat our roads, and because of that, we have more road treatment facilities located in more critical areas,” Deal said in a written statement. “All the equipment and all the supplies in the world won’t help if the trucks can’t get on the roads.
“We’ve got to communicate quicker and more effectively on the front end to keep as many vehicles off the road as possible,” the governor added.
Glanton said he plans to bring a wealth of experience to his role on the committee. In addition to being an Army veteran who is used to handling emergencies on a battlefield, Glanton has also served on various committees dealing with public safety, defense, education and transportation during his seven years in and out of the state House of Representatives.
However, the legislator also plans to consult with Clayton County police Chief Greg Porter, fire Chief Landry Merkison and Sheriff Victor Hill on ways they feel the state could improve emergency response procedures.
“One of the purposes of this task force, I believe, is to reach out to leaders and talk to them about what could be done better,” Glanton said. “We would be wise to reach out to our public safety officials, such as Chief Porter, Chief Merkison and Sheriff Hill to see what worked, what didn’t and in what ways we could improve our response to these situations.”
In addition to Glanton, there are three other legislators on the task force. They are state Sens. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) and Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) and state Rep. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla).
Additional government representatives include Deal’s chief operations officer, Bart Gobeil, as well as GEMA Executive Director Charley English, transportation Commissioner Keith Golden, natural resources Commissioner Mark Williams, public safety Commissioner Mark McDonough, Department of Defense Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Jannine Miller, State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Chris Tomlinson, MARTA General Manager Keith Parker and Atlanta’s fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, and police chief, George Turner.
TV meteorologists on the panel include WSB-TV’s Glenn Burns, CBS 46’s Markina Brown, Fox 5’s Ken Cook and 11 Alive’s Chesley McNeil.
School superintendents included among Deal’s appointees are Fulton County’s Robert Avossa, Marietta City Schools’ Emily Lembeck and DeKalb County’s Michael Thurmond.
Business leaders who will serve in the group include Georgia Motor Trucking President Ed Crowell, HNTB Vice President Jeffrey Parker, Georgia Power Executive Vice President Anthony Wilson, Georgia Transmission Corporation President Jerry Donovan, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce President Hala Moddelmog and Delta Senior Vice President Gil West.
There will be additional seats for representatives of the National Weather Service, AT&T and Verizon Wireless who have not yet been named. There is also a seat reserved for a representative of a “metro Atlanta municipality,” but that person has also not yet been named.