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Hall authorities prepared to take on possible winter storms
Law enforcement says it's prepared for icy roads and other emergencies
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Winter weather vehicle tips

Be prepared

  • Give your vehicle a maintenance check for tires, brakes, battery, heating and defrosting system and windshield wipers. Keep your washer fluid full of a nonfreezing solution.
  • Change the antifreeze, if needed, to protect the engine and radiator from freezing in cold temperatures.
  • Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area without adequate ventilation.
  • Pack and carry a winter storm survival kit, including blankets or sleeping bags; additional warm clothing; a flashlight with extra batteries; first-aid kit; knife; high-calorie, nonperishable food such as candy bars; small can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking; bag of sand or cat litter; shovel; windshield scraper and brush; and booster cables.
  • Plan your travel, considering your route before you leave and determining alternate routes, and let someone know your timetable and routes.
  • Check the weather before leaving.
  • Know numbers to call and websites to check for road conditions.

If you must drive

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Begin slowing down for traffic lights in advance and slow down when approaching intersections even if you have a green light.
  • Be careful when braking. Apply firm, steady pressure on brake pedal.
  • If your vehicle starts sliding, look and steer in the direction you want to go.
  • Don't stop on a slick road if you don't have to.
  • Don't stop while going uphill if you don't have to. Gain a little momentum before going up the hill and let it carry you to the top.
  • Avoid using cruise control when driving on a slippery surface.
  • Use extra caution on bridges, overpasses and in shady areas where the roadway doesn't thaw as quickly.

If you get stuck

  • Call 911 as soon as it becomes evident that you won't be able to get going again. It could take some time before safety officials can reach you.
  • If you get stuck in a remote area, stay with your vehicle. Don't try to walk in a severe storm unless you can actually see your destination.
  • Don't overexert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow. Working up a sweat in freezing weather can facilitate the onset of hypothermia.
  • If you have slid off the roadway, make sure the exhaust pipe is not clogged with snow, ice or mud.
  • Use your emergency kit sparingly, making sure it will last the duration of your predicament.
  • Run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill in order to conserve gasoline.

Winter weather has already threatened this year, and Hall County law enforcement leaders say when it does hit, they are prepared to respond.

A Jan. 10 storm last winter that blanketed much of Northeast Georgia with snow and layers of ice practically shut down commerce and sent daring drivers sliding along slick roads for several days.

Authorities say their operations still ran relatively smoothly despite the hectic road conditions and they expect the same should another storm hit the area this winter.

"We're pretty much prepared 24/7 for anything that comes, but when we know a winter storm is coming ... we go ahead and make sure everything is ready to go," Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said.
Being prepared means making changes from previous experiences.

"Any time you have an incident like that you evaluate and look at things, and we will have more of our four-wheel drive (vehicles) if that happens again," Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.

During last winter's severe storms, county fire department crews had to use their four-wheel drive vehicles in situations where standard vehicles couldn't reach the destination.

"If that happens again then we will rotate those around and have someone here all the time instead of just mainly during the day," Kimbrell said.

Since those storms, Hall County Emergency Management has made other adjustments as well as a direct result of budget cuts that resulted in several layoffs, said Kimbrell, who also serves as the county's director of emergency management.

In past years when roads were icy, crews from the county's Public Works and Road Maintenance Departments would dispatch to scrape and salt roadways. A county truck would follow behind to ensure the process ran smoothly. But this year, to make up for a lack of crews, county engineers will be responsible for following crews, Kimbrell said.

"It's just rearranging people's duties in the county to take care of situations like that," he said.

Inclement weather days are business as usual for police and fire responders, but with a different approach. That includes being on "heightened alert," Canada said.

"Our personnel are ready to go in any situation on a daily basis," Canada said.

And if the situation is severe enough, firefighters could take on other various roles such as clearing roads of ice and debris.

"If we start having a lot of downed trees we will then bring extra personnel and bring in reserve unit trucks with chainsaws ... to be more prepared for a higher call volume," Canada said.

Responders say people will undoubtedly venture onto roadways despite efforts to keep them home. Because their presence is essential, authorities plan ahead to effectively maneuver roads.

"(Inclement weather) doesn't change the way we operate, We still have to answer calls for service," said Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department.

But generally if city and county administrative offices close, so will county and city emergency departments. Only essential personnel will report, Wilbanks said. And county and city emergency responders will modify their vehicles to handle the conditions, including equipping them with either snow tires or automatic chains.

"We have automatic chains that are there year-round. You just flip the switch in the cabin and the chains come down," Kimbrell said.

In some instances, Gainesville Police will use its spare fleet of patrol cars to prevent newer vehicles from being damaged, Holbrook said.

If roads are impassable, firefighters may work beyond their usual 24-hour shifts until the next shift can report. Some will even stay at the firehouse to avoid being stuck at home.

"That has been the case sometimes because maybe our folks will even have a difficult time getting out of their residence," Canada said.

In that case, someone in a four-wheel drive vehicle will attempt to pick up that person. And in some cases, emergency responders will transport Northeast Georgia Medical Center employees to work to ensure the hospital is sufficiently staffed.

Much of this winter's preparedness comes from past hindrances responders have faced, including a few mishaps during last winter's storms, Kimbrell said.

"That was kind of an unprecedented storm. There were a lot of areas we couldn't travel or got stuck in," he said.

Sheriff's deputies also experienced typical issues dealt with during icy conditions, Wilbanks said.

"It's inevitable that you might get a patrol car stuck here or there, but we didn't have any problems that were unforeseen that we haven't dealt with any other time," he said.

In some instances, that required emergency crews to seek assistance from road maintenance crews.

"Several times we had to have wreckers help us. You get down to the bottom of a slick hill and we couldn't get back out of," Kimbrell said.

And emergency calls can increase during bad weather simply because people who might otherwise drive themselves to the hospital are forced to call on emergency personnel.

"The biggest thing was people couldn't get out. Normally people who would have carried themselves to the hospital for less-than emergency incidents, those people were calling us," Kimbrell said. "It took us longer to respond to calls."

Because last winter's storms hit at night, drivers were already off the road, which Canada said helped keep the call volume at a reasonable level.

"Timing is everything because there have been years in the past when it did hit in the day and at those times we run a tremendous amount of calls," he said.

Authorities hope the multiple wrecks and chaotic road conditions during the January and February months will also be a learning experience to other drivers to stay home.

In February, the Gainesville Police Department completed 15 accident reports involving 26 vehicles in a single day, which included a seven- vehicle pileup on the Dawsonville Highway bridge.

"When they get out there it's very dangerous. Snow is one thing to drive in, but ice is a whole different animal and that's what we get a lot of here," Canada said.

 

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