- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who ordered an internal review after a potent winter storm caught officials unprepared in January, outlined a wide-ranging plan Tuesday for responding to severe weather in the future.

The heads of several state agencies responsible for public safety, emergency response and transportation recommended an overhaul of the so-called Ready Georgia mobile application, which was created by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Public Health. The application would link Georgians with information on emergency shelters, transportation routes and more. GEMA has consulted with the Weather Channel and Georgia Tech, and the overhaul effort will include an aggressive marketing campaign officials said in the report.

The review panel also suggested the state assemble numerous seven-vehicle “strike teams” manning trucks with spreaders or scrapers and that the Department of Transportation upgrade its inventory of snow- and ice-removal equipment.

Under the plan, the state also has created a database with contact information for 180 school superintendents to quickly notify district officials in emergency situations. On Jan. 28, scores of schoolchildren were left stranded overnight at their schools after snow, sleet and ice began coating roads during the school day.

When the storm hit, thousands of cars and trucks clogged slickened highways, leaving some motorists trapped for hours in their cars and others to abandon vehicles to find refuge in private homes, fire stations, shelters and even supermarkets. Critics complained that Deal’s administration and other authorities didn’t respond quickly enough to changing weather advisories from the National Weather Service and instead tried blaming quickly changing forecasts for the state being caught flat-footed.

Critics also blasted local and state officials for failing to close schools and government offices early enough to prevent the massive traffic jam that began snarling metro Atlanta interstates soon after the snow began falling. In the report, officials said a weather advisory that was upgraded in severity in the early morning hours before the storm left school district officials with little time to decide whether to cancel classes or dismiss early.

Morning and afternoon traffic jams also proved to be major stumbling blocks in the state’s response to the storm. Officials said in the report that rush hour traffic the morning of the storm prevented the Georgia Department of Transportation from getting equipment and road clearing materials in place early enough, and gridlock during the storm kept trucks from treating areas that were already congested.

Officials also recommended strengthening laws regarding commercial vehicles and establishing stricter enforcement and punishment of drivers who violate laws concerning tire chains and emergency equipment.

Georgia was hit with a second ice storm in mid-February and Deal said some of the state’s short-term plans - such as forming a weather advisory group composed of local meteorologists - had already been implemented.

“Our state for the second storm was more informed and prepared through the cellphones alerts, emails to school superintendents and consultations with local meteorologists,” Deal said in a statement.

The seven-vehicle strike teams that officials proposed in the report would include trucks with spreaders or scrapers, a truck carrying sand and gravel, an all-terrain vehicle, a motor carrier compliance division officer, a state trooper and a Department of Defense hummer. The report calls for 35 strike teams to be stationed in the metro Atlanta area.

The review also suggests that state officials consider installing censors on the pavement at key locations to monitor road and air temperatures. The report says the Georgia Department of Transportation is reviewing specifications and costs associated with 30 censors that could be stationed along metro Atlanta interstates.

Deal said his Severe Winter Weather Warning and Preparedness Task Force will review the internal report.

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