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.
Good luck getting re-elected, if youre able to @KasimReed .... otherwise youre a disgrace for putting kids in harms way— MyBananaUrPeach (@Smilingisbad) January 29, 2014
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.
“We were mobilized from the first minute here,” said Reed. In reality, the clock starts on national disasters before the first flake of snow or drop of rain comes down.
4. Get your hands dirty
As clean up continues, use caution and look out for each other. The snow may have stopped but it's extremely cold. pic.twitter.com/kzWk0CZXTt— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) January 22, 2014
Show empathy and step away from the podium.
Even if you have to rescue stranded school children yourself, people appreciate gestures of solidarity. And reassurances from the relative warmth of an office building don't quite do the trick.
5. What you’re doing is not enough, you can always do more
“If you look at anybody’s street in any community across the entire region, there’s no one doing a better job than we are in the City of Atlanta,” said Reed on Wednesday.
The citizens of Atlanta begged to differ.
Some had spent the night in unmoving traffic after trying to get home the day before.
Reed and Deal can’t be faulted for wanting to shift the focus on where the city has improved from the 2011 ice storm that crippled Georgia for nearly a week.
But Atlanta is one of the ten most populous metropolitan areas in the country and it still ground to a halt for the second time in three years after a relatively minor storm.
And despite the 40 snow plows and 30 other pieces of winter weather equipment, more can always be done