“You do realize that we’ve become those people, right?” I asked my husband.
“The ones who hightail it to the store and stock up on milk when there’s snow in the forecast.”
It happens every time one of the many radar systems detects a few flurries (which is quite often when you live in the northeast). People hop into their SUVs and drive to the nearest grocery store to fill their carts with milk, eggs, and bread. Apparently there’s a lot of breakfast being made during winter storms.
In our house, having a solid supply of milk is a must, as it is an essential part of our toddlers’ diet (as is bread, which is one of the few foods my daughter hardly ever rejects). We can’t risk a shortage, and so we’re forced to wait out the lines at Costco, ready to bargain, beg, or throw down — whatever it takes to score some milk and ensure that when the flakes start falling, we’ll be ready.
Of course, what often happens is that the forecasts aren’t accurate; all the preparation proves to be for naught, and you’re stuck with dozens of eggs. It’s enough to make you want to ignore the next “storm warning” and take your chances with a half-empty refrigerator — that is, until you hear about what happened in Atlanta.
Earlier this week, a storm hit that has left the area paralyzed. According to the Georgia State Patrol, more than 1,200 car accidents have been reported, along with 130 injuries and at least one weather-related fatality. Officials, it seems, were caught off-guard. In a briefing Tuesday night, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal deflected criticism for the traffic nightmare, saying in part that the crippling weather was “unexpected.”
Weather experts, however, beg to differ. According to the Weather Channel, a series of warnings and advisories that grew increasingly serious gave government officials “nearly a day to prepare for significant impacts” of the storm. Meteorologist Chris Dolce added fuel to the fire by pointing out that gridlock may have been prevented if state and local governments and schools had staggered closings “to avoid an unmanageable number of motorists hitting the roads simultaneously.”
But Deal neglected to do this for fear that he would be lambasted for “crying wolf,” stating, “If we’d been wrong, you’d all been in here saying, ‘Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the city of Atlanta and Georgia by shutting down businesses in the state?’”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ game. But as a politician, he should know that it’s much easier to apologize for being overprepared than to try to save face when people are seeking shelter at Home Depot and giving birth in their cars because they can’t make it to the hospital. It is far better, I believe, to act decisively and apologize for it later than to seek approval to act and risk delay.
And beyond that, it’s important to be proactive and have a plan in place that can be implemented in emergency situations — preferably a plan that’s been tested. I realize it’s rare that Atlanta endures a snow/ice storm (although the area did experience one in 2011), but surely there are other situations that could merit early closings, and when that does happen, don’t they want to be ready?
I recently had lunch with a CIO friend of ours, Linda Reed of Atlantic Health, who talked about how a recent frigid day provided an opportunity to test the effectiveness of having the help desk staff work remotely. The pilot was successful, and the next time New Jersey is hit with a storm, she’ll have one less thing to worry about.
To me, that’s a great strategy. I understand that no one wants to send thousands of workers home when all you end up getting are a few flurries. But isn’t that the lesser of the two evils? Isn’t there far more risk in taking no action than in taking the wrong action?
I know that for me, it’s a no-brainer. I’d rather be stuck with a bunch of extra milk than to have none at all.