Columbia County began preparing for this winter storm Sunday evening and had equipment gassed and staged by Wednesday morning, said Columbia County Emergency Operations Director Pam Tucker.
“Sunday, when the (winter storm) watch came out, that was the beginning,” Tucker said. “We started right then.”
In Augusta-Richmond County, preparations began with a joint Monday meeting between the heads of city departments and other area entities, said Mie Lucas, disaster preparedness coordinator for Richmond County.
“Without the assistance of the group and everyone doing their piece of the puzzle, it wouldn’t have been as successful as it was,” Lucas said.
At the meeting were Augusta Engineering, which took over road maintenance in 2011, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, the city’s Recreation, 911, Utilities, Information Technology, Human Resources, Risk Management and Animal Services departments as well as Fort Gordon, Department of Family and Children Services and Red Cross officials, to detail each entity’s responsibilities, she said.
Lucas, among numerous city staff who’d been up 30 hours by Wednesday, issued more than a dozen updates through the evening about road and weather conditions, from early reports of icing on Windsor Spring, Tobacco and Morgan roads to the storm’s worst incident so far, when 25 vehicles stopped or stalled on Deans Bridge Road due to a lack of traction Wednesday morning.
Staffers staged equipment at Augusta roads known to be a problem, such as John Calhoun Expressway, which was closed for several hours Wednesday due to ice. Other areas, such as Deans Bridge Road, were unexpected trouble spots for staff and drivers alike as the weather brought sleet ahead of the forecasted snow, Lucas said.
Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith, a lieutenant with the Georgia State Patrol, said he traveled all of Richmond County early Wednesday and was impressed by the coordinated response.
“I can’t commend enough Steve Cassell and the sheriff’s office and everyone who worked on the sand trucks and the administration, they were always a step ahead of everything,” Smith said.
Cassell, head of traffic engineering, said maintenance crews dealt with the icy patches “right on target.”
All told, Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies responded to 24 wrecks Wednesday. Augusta 911 reported 22 dispatches to reports of vehicle wrecks. There were no serious injuries.
“I think we’re just organized to the point where we’re always kind of ready for it,” Deputy Columbia County Administrator Glenn Kennedy said about weather preparation plans. “It’s just a matter of turning it on, flipping the switch.”
Augusta, which lost Tucker to Columbia County a few years ago, has switched EMA personnel and fire chiefs a few times over the last few years.
The storm, while handled well, was a learning process, and any missteps will guide the process next time, Lucas said.
“Next year we’ll know,” she said. “All you can do is build on your past.”