Letter Re: Observations on Atlanta’s January 2011 Ice Storm


One of the parts of SurvivalBlog that I enjoy the most is when folks contribute their real life experiences after going through some sort of hardship. Reading the examples from others helps me to fine tune my preps. Let me participate by providing my observations from the ice storm, amusingly titled Snowpocalypse 2011, that hit Atlanta recently. The roads were impassible due to the city’s lack of snow removal equipment, and pretty much the entire city was stranded in their houses. What would’ve been a blip of a storm in the north ended up crippling this city, and everything ground to a halt.   I started creating this list of observations for myself, but decided to share. Here they are, in no particular order:  

• The statistic I’ve frequently heard of “every family has only three days of food on hand” always sounded like bunk to me. Who goes grocery shopping every three days? Shopping once a week seems more realistic, so I figure a week’s supply of food is in everyone’s home. However, consider the pattern where Family A typically shops on Mondays, Family B shops on Tuesdays, Family C on Wednesdays, etc. Imagine what happens if the stores are closed for three days in a row, like they were due to this storm. Everybody that missed their typical shopping day now has to go, and the stores were cleared out. That, plus the expected panic buying, happened here. Imagine, say, 40 feet of shelving without a single item of food on it. I saw photos. It was real.  

• Injuries exponentially increase stress, especially if it is impossible to get to a doctor. A family member developed a wound that needed seven stitches, and I had no way of making that happen for five days. I’ve recently purchased a skin staple gun.  

• No matter how deep your larder, chances are excellent that you will not have something very important when you need it. In my case, it was antibiotics. I had topicals, but I needed something more significant because the above-mentioned wound got infected. Mentally prepare yourself for the idea that you won’t have everything, and when you do discover that you are missing something, the idea won’t come as such a shock.  

• A routine is a powerful thing, and three days without the ability to leave the house is enough for cabin fever. It would have been much worse without Internet or television, and even that got old after visiting all of my usual web sites. Have something to read. Have a lot to read. I personally suggest studying some sort of skill during your normal work/school hours, then having fiction or entertainment to read during your normal off hours. It helps keep a semblance of a routine.  

• Keep enough of your regular food for at least every other meal. My wife and I feared a power outage, so we ate all of our typical “Sunday fancy meal” foods from the freezer in succession, and it made me sick.  

• Expect typical governmental lunacy. Some of Atlanta’s main streets downtown weren’t touched for days because the roads themselves belong to the state. The city said clearing the roads was the state’s job/expense, and the state said that since the roads were downtown, they were the city’s responsibility. So nothing happened.  

• People who make poor decisions during normal circumstances will continue to make poor decisions, only now the impact will be worse. Despite repeated pleas by the local government not to drive, folks went out anyway, and got stuck or crashed. Some were killed. Those stranded/abandoned cars prevented the few plow trucks the city has from clearing the roadways. Also, the crashes were so frequent, the police said they would respond to accidents only if somebody involved was injured because they were overwhelmed by the volume. If no injuries took place, you were on your own.  

• Your family is just as stressed as you are. Don’t be at each other’s throats. If you’ve been with your spouse long enough, you know what will make him/her happy, even if it is just a small gesture. Do them. Such efforts will pay dividends when the crisis is over, too.  

• Those with alcohol will drink it, to the point where it was treated like a mandatory vacation. I frequented an Atlanta-based message board online, and was surprised to discover how many people posting said they were doing not much more than spending the entire time drunk. I would say that 65% percent of the posters said so. I don’t have anything against alcohol, but decided to spend the duration sober, if only to stay sharp. If the huge tree in my back yard fell on the house due to the ice load, I didn’t want to have to evacuate my house while inebriated. WTSHTF, I would expect the same sort of people to react in the same manner, at least until they run out. See my point above about the people with poor decision making skills. In this case, they knew the ice would eventually melt, and things would go back to normal. When it is TEOTWAWKI, these folks might make some unpredictable choices.  

• A job that can be worked from home is a huge benefit. I racked up hours even though I wasn’t able to get to the office.   • Ice is the great equalizer. Traffic was snarled, cars abandoned, making roads impassible. Everyone should have chains for their vehicles, even if they live in the south and own a 4X4. A recent news story said that 49 of the states had snow. It can happen anywhere. My four wheel drive was parked because I didn’t have chains. I live on a slight hill, and a neighbor of mine had his car slide down the hill. Bear in mind that no one was in it at the time, as it was parked and the doors were locked. It just slid away. He managed to run after and catch it in time before it hit another car. If anything, this observation should reveal just how slippery the roads were.  

• Down here, some houses are poorly insulated compared to northern levels, and many heaters weren’t be able to keep up when the weather got record-breaking cold. Be prepared for the idea of wearing outdoor clothes indoors. A co-worker of mine had her furnace fail because of the stress load. She spent three days freezing (temperatures were in the teens) because the service technicians weren’t able to get to her. An alternate source of heat would’ve saved her a load of turmoil. Keeping her equipment maintained would’ve been a good idea, too. She confessed that she skips the typical service checks to save money. Guess that didn’t work out so well.  

• Unless you are very fit, everything will be sore as you are forced to vary from your daily routine. Have pain reliever ready. I’m a black belt, and consider my balance exceptional. That said, I still slipped and fell on the ice. It can happen to anyone. My training included the ability to take a fall and not get hurt, so I came out ok. Not to say that I wasn’t sore, of course. I’ll take sore over a broken bone any day. The news reported of one poor gentleman that fell and was killed.  

• Have enough preps in your home to last at least a couple of weeks, even if there is a store within walking distance of your house. Depending on the circumstances, even three blocks will be an impossible distance. I read stories about locals who fell on the ice and broke bones. Also, not only will the stores get cleared out by panicked buyers, some employees were not able to make it to work so the stores couldn’t open, and in other cases, resupply trucks were not be able to restock due to the roads.  

• Services, such as mail or trash pickup, stopped. Public transportation didn’t run, schools were closed. I haven’t had mail for an entire week, and UPS and FedEx suspended deliveries completely. That’s a shame, because I had some stuff on order that would’ve been nice to have. Banks were also closed, which ended up no big deal because not only could you not get to them, few stores were open anyway so you had no place to spend your money. A town north of here had a boil water advisory, for whatever reason. I wonder how they got the word out if people were without power. A Berkey, with a policy of using it regularly instead of just emergencies, would probably be pretty useful for those folks.  

• Local television newscasters couldn’t get in to the stations, and were posting their on-the-scene news reports online by using the video capture provided from their iPhones.  

• Emergency services were also compromised. An ambulance is nothing but a big car, and in some circumstances, they weren’t able to get where they needed to go either. I saw a fire truck, with chains on, stuck. The crews were using shovels to clear a path under the wheels, one foot at a time. Slow, hard work.  

• A retreat is useless if you can’t get to it. Pre-stage your preps there, if you have one, but have something to fall back on at your regular home. You might find that you have to dive into those reserves unexpectedly.  

• Fortunately I never lost power or water/sewer, though some did lose electricity. If the lights had gone out in mass quantities, with impassible roads and well below freezing temperatures, people would’ve died all over the city. There would’ve been no way to extricate them from their homes, and if the outage was wide spread enough, no place to put them.  

• There is one bright spot in the story. In my area, neighbors relied on each other, communicated, and provided assistance to each other. My neighborhood has a Google message board, and if anybody learned any useful knowledge, it was passed along to the group. I highly recommend setting up one of these, no matter how big your community is. Our group is populated by a wide variety of socioeconomic levels, and it still works. Even if no useful information is conveyed, the gallows humor passed along provided a great stress reliever and offered the “We’re all in this together” attitude.   Hopefully this list will provide value to someone. Stay safe! – John C. in Atlanta