Gov. Nathan Deal called for a top-to-bottom review of the government’s response to the epic traffic jam in the aftermath of Tuesday’s snowfall and he and the state’s top emergency staffer apologized for failing to adequately prepare for the storm.
“I am not satisfied with the response,” Deal said. “But I am not going to look for a scapegoat. I am the governor, and the buck stops with me.”
Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have previously blamed the near-simultaneous release of students, office-workers and government workers for traffic that turned minutes-long commutes into hours-long ordeals. Deal has also quibbled over weather forecasts, while Reed has questioned school districts for opening classrooms.
At a Thursday press conference, Deal was unequivocal.
“We did not have adequate preparation, and I do accept responsibility for that,” said Deal.
The head of Georgia’s emergency response, Charley English, also apologized for “getting this one wrong.”
“I made a terrible error in judgment earlier, late on Monday afternoon and early Tuesday,” said English, who said he made “regretful” statements about Georgia’s response in earlier statements to the media.
“In the future you can rest assured that when the forecasts change, there will be a much more aggressive response,” said English, who heads the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Tellingly, Deal dodged questions about English’s future with the agency. His spokesman also said Deal was pressing emergency agencies for answers about the severity of the storm on Monday well before the storm hit.
When pressed on his timetable, Deal said he was still sleeping around 3 a.m. when the weather alert was upgraded, but said his staff was aware of the shift. He said he learned of the alert when he arrived at his office after 7 a.m.
Deal rejected arguments that the storm was proof more mass transit investment was needed, but he said the state will consider measures to keep truck traffic out of metro Atlanta during storm conditions.
“I can say this to you: We will be more aggressive. We will take those weather warnings more seriously,” Deal said. “I believe we will all agree to err on the side of caution.”
The governor’s response was met with immediate criticism from Democrats. State Sen. Vincent Fort, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said any review should be independent of the government.
“You can’t have the fox guarding the henhouse, particularly in an election year,” said Fort. “What happened this week was unconscionable. And I don’t know if something like this happened next week that the response would be any different.”