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CARLTON FLETCHER: Area officials were well-prepared for weather event

OPINION: ‘Prepare for worst, hope for best’ worked nicely in Albany, Dougherty County

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Remember why you came and while you’re alive, Experience the warmth before you grow old.

Incubus

If you’re a government official — elected, appointed, hired or otherwise — you early-on develop a bunker mentality. You just do. It’s a standard defense mechanism.

So I give fair advance warning that, today, I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him.

I was nothing but impressed with the efforts of city and county officials here as they monitored and prepared for what was forecast as a potentially devastating winter storm earlier this week. (We won’t get into how local weather guys … umm … prognosticators added to the hysteria by predicting a doomsday scenario that had area fringe groups stocking up for the end of the world. … As Don Henley sang, “They can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in their eye.”)

From the time the National Weather Service contacted communities in the path of Winter Storm Leon (We’re naming storms now? What’s next, Summer Sprinkle Sammie?), Albany and Dougherty County officials started planning. Emergency Management Agency director and deputy director James Carswell and Jim Vaught, respectively, got the ball rolling, and city and county utility and Public Works crews systematically and methodically began preparations for what was expected to be a hairy couple of days.

Most citizens will never know it, but local officials had touched base with homeless and emergency shelters and DEFACS personnel before the first raindrop fell Tuesday, letting them know of contingency plans in the event that emergency shelter space was needed. Vaught said local officials were prepared to turn the Albany Civic Center into a massive collection station should the need arrive.

Public Works crews in the city and county started sanding — and, with the help of Georgia Department of Transportation personnel fortuitously working in the area, salting — bridges and on/off ramps to help minimize the possibility of major traffic issues like the ones that all but shut down major thoroughfares in Atlanta. Even so, by 2 p.m. on Wednesday, law enforcement worked more than 25 mostly minor traffic accidents, pretty much all caused by the weather conditions.

EMA beefed up its Emergency 911 personnel to handle a possible increase in calls, and firefighters were called in to work the city’s 311 (information) phone lines in case citizens utilized that service in greater numbers than is typical.

Water, Gas & Light Commission crews were told to prepare for a worst-case scenario, and pretty much all personnel was either on standby or on duty as the storm eased through the area. As interim WG&L General Manager Tom Berry noted when rallying the troops for the potential severe weather, “There are no non-essential employees with a utility.”

WG&L’s preparations also included having additional personnel on hand to answer customers’ phone calls.

City and county law enforcement agencies also prepared for the worst during the weather event, and the city’s fire department and EMS personnel were on alert.

Unlike some major cities — ahem, hello, Atlanta — local officials did not get caught off-guard by what turned out to be a relatively minor weather event. As City Manager James Taylor said Thursday morning, “We’d rather be prepared for the worst and have things turn out rather mild like they did than to not be prepared.”

We as citizens — and we as journalists — are often critical of our government officials. If they don’t understand that such criticism comes with the territory, they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing in the first place. We’re a lot less likely, though, to praise officials when they do things right. Folks in Southwest Georgia and in Albany and Dougherty County would not be remiss in taking a second or two this week to thank folks who went above and beyond to make sure they were as safe as possible during the winter storm.

Don’t worry, we’ll get back to complaining about those unpopular taxes and ordinances soon enough.