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Friday, January 31, 2014 - 12:31pm

State Leaders Demand Better Emergency Planning, But At What Price Tag?

Updated: 10 months ago.
Sen. Jason Carter answers press questions at the Capitol. The senator from Decatur says Georgia’s governor needs more power in an emergency. (Photo: Claire Simms, GPB News)

Georgia's leaders want the state to be prepared the next time an emergency hits, but some lawmakers say better preparation may come with a hefty price.

State Senator Jason Carter says Georgia’s governor needs more power in an emergency.

The Decatur Democrat took to the well of the state senate Friday to address the state’s handling of two inches of snow that gridlocked interstates Tuesday and left thousands of people stranded.

“No one is laying blame today. But we have seen in metro Atlanta at a minimum the need for the coordination, the need to be out in front. And the need to have the governor take that command from the very beginning,” said Carter. “So the stakes are just too high to be hesitant.”

Carter said the governor needs the power to take command from the region’s myriad local governments when a crisis threatens.

“Now in metro Atlanta we have so many city and county governments, so many school districts. The coordination essentially has to happen at the state level. And that means that in the future the Governor must declare a state of emergency early and take charges from the very beginning.”

The senator from Decatur is running for governor this year.

Carter and his fellow Senate Democrats are calling for a bi-partisan commission to look for ways to improve the state’s emergency response.

Senator Steve Henson (D-Tucker) says transportation is a key weakness, and lawmakers should act before the next emergency.

“We have a fragile interstate system to meet the demands that we have placed upon it. That is because we as legislators have not found the funding solutions we need to make sure we are ready for the next century.”

Representative Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) used to serve as the director of Homeland Security and the Commissioner of Public Safety for the state.

He agrees the state made mistakes, but says change comes with a hefty price tag that often taxpayers aren’t willing to shoulder.

“Other than doubling our infrastructure capabilities for our transportation systems, I don’t know that given the same set of circumstances, something similar won’t happen again.”

Governor Deal has started taking steps to develop new strategies for state emergency response.

Deal said he ordered an “internal review” of the state agencies involved in failing to adequately prepare for Tuesday’s storm.

Friday afternoon, Governor Deal’s office announced he will hold a news conference Monday, February 3 where he will release the names of the people he is assigning to a new “Severe Weather Warning Task Force.”

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Jeanne Bonner

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