City personnel get jump on storm

Sand trucks hit streets early Tuesday morning

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - While Jack Frost took the metro area by surprise last week blasting the region with snow and ice and paralyzing Atlanta, Johns Creek personnel were out in force early Tuesday morning, hours before the storm hit, said Johns Creek Communications Manager Doug Nurse.

The city's Emergency Operations Center inside police headquarters was already up and running the morning of the storm, putting sand and salt out to pre-treat likely trouble spots and revisiting them as needed through the night and into Wednesday.

Mayor Mike Bodker praised the city's response efforts.

“Certainly, these things are not completely within our control, but just like our last winter storm, I'm very proud of the around-the-clock effort that our staff put in. I think the results speak for themselves,” Bodker said.

“Staff worked very hard,” he said. “Some slept at City Hall, some slept in the Emergency Operations Center. But they wanted to make sure they were there to get the job done.

“We were able for the most part to keep our roads moving throughout. I think we did a good job of communicating those roads we were struggling to deal with,” he said. “Most importantly, to my knowledge, all the school kids were able to get home.”

Working 12-hour shifts, Johns Creek Public Works and Police staff kept up efforts to keep the streets clear, and updated the traffic situation regularly through Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.

“They worked hard for hours without breaks,” Nurse said. “It was a heroic effort on the part of our personnel. They were aggressive to hit the trouble spots, and with a lot of coordination between police, fire and public works guys.

“It was a collaborative effort to keep the roads as clear as they were,” he said. “It was a challenge, but all in all, Johns Creek did about as well as could be expected. Traffic in Atlanta has no margin for error.”

So when two inches of snow hits the area that rapidly turns to ice, the roads quickly become treacherous.

“That quickly caused traffic to back up. And when it did, that caused us problems because we couldn't get our sand trucks to where they needed to be,” Nurse said.

Eventually, the city was able to partner police cars with the sand trucks to get them through. On Old Alabama Road, crews hand-shoveled salt and sand until one lane was cleared to get traffic moving again.

As drivers began to abandon their cars, the city called upon tow trucks to pull them off the road and into the nearest parking lots to clear the streets.

School buses got a priority, so that all the children got home. No students were stranded at school or in a bus.

“The problem we encountered was that we would treat a road or street, and then it would re-freeze. So we would have to go back and treat it again,” Nurse said.

Police officers worked extended shifts, and detectives donned uniforms and worked traffic shifts as well. The city reserved four hotel rooms so officers could get rest without trying to make it home.

The Traffic Response Vehicle was in operation around the clock to make sure fire station entrances remained accessible. The city's subcontractors also had 21 employees working 12-hour shifts.

Two spreader trucks were on the street with two other trucks with hand-shoveled sand. In all, Nurse estimated the city used 150 tons of sand and salt on the roads.

Bodker said they will have a debriefing at the appropriate time to discuss what they could do better, and that includes other cities and jurisdictions.