Sustainability Doesn’t Just Happen. You Gotta’ Have a Plan

Snowpocalypse. Clusterflake. Snowjam. Gridlockalypse. Whatever you want to call it, last week’s weather woes in Atlanta, GA were an exercise in what not to do in a crisis. I won’t rehash the entire scenario, but I will say this: there really did not appear to be a well-conceived, practiced disaster management plan in place. In fact, it seemed like the folks in charge were making it up as they went along.

When people discuss sustainability, the talk generally revolves around recycling, conservation, renewable energy, transportation, and the like. I would argue that a given population’s ability to get from home to work and back again safely and in a reasonable amount of time should be central to any sustainability plan.

A few years ago, I helped revise a municipal disaster preparedness plan. Included in the plan were categories for sharing resources region-wide, updated contact information for first responders, and lists of protocols for various emergency situations.

First responders — such as firefighters, EMTs, police officers, public works employees — receive regular emergency response training. As a result, they know what to do in various emergency situations. However, even the best staff can’t perform well without competent management and a clear plan.

A good disaster-preparedness plan implemented well would not have stopped the snow from falling last week, but it would have greatly lessened the severity of the traffic that resulted from so many miscues and sloppy decisions. A friend who was caught in the mess says she doesn’t blame anybody except the weather gods. I’m not that generous. I think there is plenty of blame to go around, but I lay the bulk of it at the feet of our elected officials. I sincerely hope they have learned a few lessons from last week’s experience. Apologies are good, but changed behavior is better.

And I will also echo what several people have expressed: Metro Atlanta needs a regional transportation plan that INCLUDES mass transit. We’ve seen again and again how quickly a multi-lane Interstate system becomes non-navigable in emergencies. For those who say light- and heavy-rail systems are prohibitively expensive I have one question. How much did last week’s Snowpocalypse cost Georgia in terms of overtime pay, lost wages, insurance increases, etc.?

Metro Atlanta is a region, and we need to start acting like one.

For more information about existing regional plans, go to:



One response to “Sustainability Doesn’t Just Happen. You Gotta’ Have a Plan”

  1. John Duke says :

    There is a lot of enthusiasm for the belt line. If only we could harness that enthusiasm. The belt line provides connectivity for the city of Atlanta and lots of needed green space! I don’t think the belt line would have helped in the congestion we had last week. What if we took 3 billion dollars and built the Orange Line, a fifth and whole new rail line that is “dropped in” with the existing system? It shortens bus routes, provides three parallel lines through the core, reaches a part of Cobb, serves the west side of the connector, and Emory area, and mostly follows existing railroad right of way. It is shaped like a U and is similar to the Red line in Washington DC. Then take another 6 billion and build a circle line through the I 285 right of way. At least people get dispersed out of the core before driving and there is better public transit mobility in the core.

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