Before two inches of snow and ice blanketed the county last Tuesday, the Henry County Emergency Agency was advising schools to close and citizens to stay off the roads.
“Any time there is a threat of severe weather, our schools work in conjunction with the county’s emergency agency,” said schools spokesman J.D. Hardin. “We met with them last Monday evening, took the information they provided and then brought it back to discuss with our staff.”
Hardin said although the school system decided to close county schools for Tuesday and anticipated closures on Wednesday, the severity of the weather conditions forced the cancellation of classes on Thursday and Friday as well.
“We had staff come in Tuesday morning, but once the precipitation started, we didn’t want them to be in danger, so by about 11 a.m. we encouraged staff to leave,” he said.
While parts of Fulton County struggled with students being stranded at schools or on buses overnight, Hardin said the decision to shut down Henry schools during the icy weather was the right one.
“We were very fortunate not to have any students stranded or weather-related damages to any of our facilities,” he said.
Similarly, county Chairman Tommy Smith said after meeting with emergency agency director Don Ash last Sunday and relying on warnings from the National Weather Service, he was ready to keep citizens out of harm’s way.
“Our process started last Sunday with a meeting that involved the police and fire chiefs, human resources, school board representatives and more,” Smith said. “We were on a conference call with a meteorologist and it was determined during that time that shutting down schools and letting government employees out at noon was the right decision.”
He said although the weather permitted activity during the morning, representatives from the county did not want motorists to be stranded in the afternoon.
“To my knowledge, only one motorist had to abandon his car during the snow storm in our county and I feel that a collaborative effort between our officials, department of transportation and schools helped to keep that number down,” Smith said. “I will always chose to err on the side of caution when it concerns our citizens’ safety.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took the blame for schools, businesses and government all letting out at the same time and said they should have staggered their closings.
“I’m not thinking about a grade right now,” Reed said when asked about the city’s response.
“I’m thinking about getting people out of their cars.”
The Georgia State Patrol said there were about 2,000 vehicles abandoned along the state’s freeways due to the snowstorm. In an email Monday, Atlanta spokesman Carlos Campos said the city did not yet have information on the number of vehicles towed, the number of people sheltered, the number of staff overtime hours used or the total estimated cost of the storm cleanup.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.