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2/3/2014 9:37:20 AMSNOWPOCALYPSE 2014

In anticipation of the possible snow fall, our Command Staff met on Monday afternoon and discussed plans including additional manpower, making sure we had chains for our cars and making sure we had other resources we might need.  We also met with our Public Works staff to make sure we had a good plan of action in case we received significant snowfall.

When the snow began to fall on Tuesday morning, our Public Works Director, Michael Smith, and I activated our Emergency Operations Center.  Offices and other businesses throughout Dunwoody and the metro Atlanta area soon released tens of thousands of employees, which translated to tens of thousands of cars onto the streets.  Around the same time, schools across metro Atlanta began letting out.  The immediate result was epic gridlock.

We immediately logged into the DeKalb Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) Web EOC portal to coordinate and report on road closures and other issues here in Dunwoody.  Through Web EOC, we were able to monitor countywide, regional and statewide issues during the entire event. 

People who work in Dunwoody were trying to get home to Cobb County, North Fulton and other points east.  Individuals, who work in Gwinnett County or points east, were trying to travel through Dunwoody to get home.  Lastly, there were residents of Dunwoody trying to get home from outside Dunwoody and from inside Dunwoody.  Outside of the fact that schools were not cancelled and everyone left work basically at the same time, there were two other factors that contributed greatly to our traffic woes in Dunwoody.  The first factor was the amount of traffic heading west and north.  There are only a few points where the Chattahoochee River can be crossed.  Many of these points, I-285, Johnson Ferry and Roswell Rd were impassable and traffic was at a standstill.  In addition, GA 400 was at a standstill.  As a result, the traffic in Dunwoody had no place to go.  Not only were the roads I mentioned at a standstill due to the volume an additional factor was the conditions of the roads resulting in multiples accidents and abandoned cars in the roadway.

We had considerable discussion amongst our staff about whether officers should direct traffic or try to keep the boxes open in the intersections.  We took into consideration the factors mentioned above and the likelihood of whether they would have a positive effect on the traffic.  We also considered the resources we had and our primary duty of responding to our 9-1-1 calls and the needs of our community.  We put our sworn administrative and executive staff on the road in addition to the Day Shift Team already there.  We had our Crime Response Team on duty and we called in our night shift officers early.  Even with the additional resources, our call volume remained extremely high and our manpower was stretched thin.  In a normal 24 hour period, we respond to about 75 calls for service.  In the 18 hour period related to the storm, we had 222 calls for service.  There were literally dozens and dozens of intersections in Dunwoody blocked and we certainly couldn’t man them all. I came to the conclusion that one officer here or there would not make a significant impact on the problem and our limited resources could best be used in other places.  The volume of cars on the road and speed with which the roads were blocked overwhelmed our ability to keep the intersections operating efficiently.  This was true throughout the metro Atlanta area as well.  Having spoken to many Police Chiefs, I am not aware of any other city that had officers directing traffic in intersections. 

As the event unfolded into the late afternoon and early evening, motorists began running out of gas in the middle of the road and began abandoning their cars.  Sergeant Espinoza had a great idea to man our ATV, buy some gas cans and fill them up with gas and drive around the Perimeter area and assist motorists by provided them with gas.  Sergeant Espinoza & Brent Walker, our Parks Director, ran this detail for awhile and Lieutenant Fladrich picked it up later.  This turned out to be an excellent idea and we were able to help many motorists who had run out of gas.  We continued this detail until we ran out of gas.  For more information, see our Facebook post.

We used our social media channels, primarily Facebook and Twitter, to communicate information about the conditions of traffic, roadways and other issues and concerns.  We responded to questions as often as we could and provided additional information when possible.  The most roads we had closed at any one time were five.  This information was constantly updated throughout the event.

Because of the heavy volume of traffic, it was difficult or nearly impossible to spread the salt mix on many roads until the traffic cleared up.  The City had two crews working all night to treat our main thoroughfares.  The crews worked for the next several days non-stop.  At the same time, our officers were providing input to our Public Works department regarding the locations of the roads in the most need of treatment.

As I mentioned previously, in the first 18 hours of the storm the Dunwoody Police Department responded to 222 calls for service and many other calls generated by officers, which were not called into our dispatch center to save radio traffic.  We began to have a number of medical calls as time passed and conditions worsened.  One gentleman at Perimeter Mall began having chest pains.  One of our officers responded and found out the gentleman had just been released from the hospital after undergoing open heart surgery.  Our officer assisted until the DeKalb Fire Department and an ambulance arrived.  In another case, a woman was in labor and needed to get to Northside Hospital.  Sergeant Parsons and Officer Fecht did their best to get her there.  As they pulled within sight of the hospital her contractions were about 2 minutes apart.  Sergeant Parson’s vehicle was involved in a minor accident as well.  Although his car could not travel all the way to the hospital, he was able to get the soon to be mom to the hospital.

Our officers pushed cars out of the roadway, provided directions, transported motorists to shelters and generally checked on motorists in between their calls for service.  Lieutenant Fladrich bought some blankets at Wal-Mart and he spent some time passing those blankets out to women and children stranded in their cars in several parking lots throughout Dunwoody.  As much as our staff was out responding to the needs of the community, citizens and businesses stepped up as well.  I must pause and say that the combined efforts of our staff and those members in the community who jumped in to help, was very touching.

Some examples include a gentleman with a truck who had a tow strap and helped drag several vehicles on Ashford Dunwoody, out of the roadway to a safer spot.  In addition, there were a couple of men in a pick-up truck who pulled up to an intersection with a truck load of salt and sand.  They immediately began spreading the mix in the intersection and on the steep incline of the adjacent roadway.  Citizens across the City of Dunwoody joined with officers and helped push and pull cars out of the roadway.  A group of 4-5 people on I-285 were walking around with a cooler providing water and other refreshments to stranded motorists.  As Officer Tate was trying to put his tire chains on his car on Dunwoody Club Drive, a citizen stepped out and helped him complete the task.  The citizen’s wife even provided Officer Tate a goody bag with some treats.  

Several businesses and Churches stepped up to the plate as well.  Target became a temporary shelter and was sheltering over 60 people at one point in time.  The Kroger on Chamblee Dunwoody Road allowed people to shelter as well.  First Baptist Church of Atlanta also opened their doors.  Our officers spent a great deal of time transporting people to these locations for shelter.  I am sure there were many other locations throughout Dunwoody providing similar services that I may not be aware of at this point in time.

I can’t say enough about our staff.  Some worked 30 straight hours and many worked 15-20 hours.  Some of our night officers faced long commutes to get to work just like the rest of the public.  In addition, officers who worked the long shift were then faced with an extremely long commute home.  We only had two minor officer involved accidents with no injuries, which I am thankful for, and only one of our cars became stuck on Dunwoody Club Drive for a short period of time.  Not once did I hear any member of the department complain about the harsh working conditions, the workload or the long hours.  Instead, they concentrated on providing the best service they could provide given the circumstances.  

Our staff made a conscious decision to only tow cars that we absolutely had to.  We did not want to add any expense or additional frustrations to motorists who were experiencing this weather event.  As we found abandoned cars on Wednesday and Thursday, we made every attempt to locate the owners before we towed them.  Fortunately, we only had to tow a handful.  

The commute in and around Dunwoody was similar to the commute throughout the metro Atlanta area.  I have a number of friends and family who experienced extremely long commutes.  One only had to drive six miles from Acworth to Powder Springs.  It took over six hours.  Another had to drive from Acworth to Marietta and it took him 10 hours.  It even took one friend 20 hours to get home from College Park Dallas.  In reviewing all of the media reports and social media posts, I am pretty sure that similar commute times were experienced across the metro area.  

I was born in Atlanta and for those that lived here then, I am sure you remember the snow storm of 1982.  The snow began to fall in the middle of the day and although there was some notice the metro Atlanta area experienced immediate gridlock.  At the time, I worked at the Marietta Police Department and had to deal with many of the same issues experienced in Snowpocalypse 2014.  I guess 32 years between similar daytime snow events is not too bad. 

After an event such as this our department will conduct an internal review to help us plan better for future events.  In hindsight, the two things that would have helped the most would have been if the schools had closed Tuesday and if many of the businesses had closed as well and their employees had stayed home.  Fortunately, we can all learn from events such as this and improve upon our future responses.  I was also touched by all of the good Samaritans in Dunwoody and across the metro Atlanta area.  I hope that is the legacy of this event and the one thing the majority of us remember the most……..

Chief Billy Grogan

Dunwoody Police Department


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