Avossa named to governor’s weather task force

One of 32 metro leaders to help state prepare for emergency events

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ATLANTA – The Fulton County School System will have a seat at the table when Gov. Nathan Deal convenes his Severe Winter Weather Task Force this month. The panel will review better ways of handling unprecedented weather events such as “Snow Jam 2014,” and how to coordinate the response from a regional perspective.

Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa is one of only three education officials on the 32-member task force that includes representatives from police, fire, government and the business community.

Other school officials on the task force include Emily Lembeck, superintendent of the Marietta City School System, and Michael Thurmond, who leads the DeKalb County School System.

“I’m honored that the governor has asked me to participate on the task force,” said Avossa. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned, and understanding there are some [decisions] we have control over and others that we do not, but which still impact Fulton Schools.”

He said the recent emergency was centered more on the widespread traffic gridlock, and less on the weather, which significantly impaired the system’s ability to get kids home.

“I’m asked all the time why Fulton [schools] were so impacted, and it’s really because every main artery in Atlanta goes through Fulton,” said Avossa. “And that is something we have to discuss regionally.”

The task force will meet on Feb. 18 and March 4 in a public forum in Atlanta, with the goal of delivering preparedness information to Deal within 60 days of the meetings. While the public will not address the task force directly during the meeting, they are invited to submit questions and comments to swptf@georgia.gov for the panel to review.

Communication with state school systems was identified as a priority for the governor, especially during potential weather threats.

“Effective immediately, a storm warning will trigger a message to cellphones in targeted areas, as in the Amber Alert system, and advise against road travel,” said Deal. “We will go one step further with school superintendents by emailing them weather condition updates, so that they have the most up-to-date information when determining whether to close schools.”

State officials maintain they cannot make decisions for school systems to close, however that has been done in the recent past. In September 2005, Gov. Sonny Perdue requested all public schools to close for two days, Sept. 26-27, in order to conserve fuel ahead of a hurricane. While the order was not mandatory, most systems complied.

‘Drill’ for late start goes well

School officials test preparedness for starting school later

ATLANTA – Last Thursday night, ahead of a possible winter weather event, Fulton School officials sent out a note to parents advising them school could be delayed two hours the following morning if roads got icy overnight.

After being burned for late and lack of information during the weather event a week earlier, school officials said the warning was sent out in an “abundance of caution.”

While the precipitation never materialized, Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa said the warning was used as a drill to test how parents could be kept informed, while making sure principals and schools had plans in place to open late.

“We’ve never really practiced starting late or dismissing early when it’s not planned [with advance warning],” said Avossa. “So this was our first drill on protocol for communications and organization.”

He said when the delays and early dismissals are planned well in advance, the procedure is much simpler than when it is a response to a developing event.

“How do we evacuate students and get 900 bus drivers to schools when they don’t live and sleep in the bus barn and may live be several counties away?” he asked.

Practicing the response, he said, helps develop plans to answer those questions.

Starting this week, Fulton parents are being asked to provide input and suggestions on how the school system can be more responsive and prepared for emergencies. Avossa said a tab will be located on the home page of the system’s website (fultonschools.org) for input.

He will then take this information to the Severe Weather Task Force, which Avossa was appointed to by Gov. Nathan Deal.

– Candy Waylock