A Politician's Guide to Surviving a Snow Storm: Atlanta Edition

PHOTO: At left, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and at right, traffic stalled on Interstate 75/85

A word to wise politicians: Mother Nature could well bring you to your knees.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal are taking a beating for their response to the snow that has crippled Atlanta and surrounding areas.

For nearly two days, motorists were trapped in seemingly unending rush-hour traffic. Children were trapped in schools overnight and marooned on buses. Highways turned into parking lots.

Just as a successful natural disaster response can boost political capital – ask New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about Hurricane Sandy — a botched response is hard to shake.

In this case, Deal has a re-election race coming up, and Reed is known to have political ambitions beyond Atlanta, so the political damage could have a lasting impact for both men.

It may be too late to fix what went wrong for these two, but here are five steps to surviving a natural disaster without losing your political credibility.

1. When in doubt, over-react

"We have been confronted with an unexpected winter storm that has hit the metropolitan Atlanta area," said Deal in a press conference after the traffic nightmare began Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, no one remembers the natural disaster response overkill when all is said and done. They do remember a response that is woefully inadequate, however.

Northerners might scoff at some three inches of snow and ice because they’re usually prepared for much worse. But in the south, this kind of weather doesn’t come very often, which is all the more reason to be prepared.

Had state and local resources been mobilized to treat roads before the first snowflake fell, we may not even be talking about this story.

2. Take responsibility, and do it early

Nothing infuriates people suffering from the brunt of a natural disaster more than hearing politicians and officials shift responsibility.

“There are certain things we don’t have control over and one of those is the weather,” Deal Wednesday. “This came rather unexpectedly.”

Unfortunately, meteorologists weren’t content to take the blame for flubbing the forecast.

Turns out, in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday the National Weather Service warned in no uncertain terms that the weather would prove hazardous and dangerous to the roads.

“Snow-covered roads will make for hazardous driving conditions through Wednesday morning,” came the advisory at 3:38 a.m. on Tuesday.

Atlanta schools remained open until later that day when children were released early.

Parents worried about their children who were stuck on buses or in schools might have found cold comfort in Deal’s words.

3. Control your message

In August 2011, before Hurricane Irene bore down on the East Coast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took to the podium in his usual blustery manner to deliver a message to his constituents: “get the hell off the beach!”

The warning was crude but effective. And it dared anyone to suggest that Christie wasn’t on top of the risk the storm posed to his constituents.

In Atlanta, both Reed and Deal seemed to appear after the story had gotten out of control. With 24-hour cable news network CNN, which is headquartered in Atlanta, following the story minute by minute as even some of their employees were stuck in the snowy disaster, Deal and Reed seemed to be trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

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