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Revisiting the 2014 Winter Ice Storm 'Snow Jam' in Atlanta, Georgia

Winter is here! Along with plunging temperatures, many portions of the country have already gotten their first taste of winter-weather. Being prepared is important, especially during these cold winter months.

Back on January 28, 2014, snow and ice wreaked havoc on Atlanta, Georgia, and immobilized much of the surrounding areas. Due to uncertainty with the forecast, many were unprepared. After severe cold and ice hit the region, motorists, children, and thousands of others were stranded on the roadways overnight.

The fast-accumulating snow and ice mixture brought traffic to a standstill, and salt and sand trucks were unable to coat the roadways. According to CBS News, thousands were unable to make it home Tuesday night and, “In Fulton County, 99 school buses filled with kids were still on the road at midnight. At least 2,000 other students spent the night at school.” The storm was also responsible for more than 1,200 traffic accidents throughout the state of Georgia.

The Importance of Emergency Preparedness in a Child Care Setting

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness had the opportunity to speak with Janna Rookis, a consultant for Kids’ Galaxy in Gwinnett County, Georgia, with locations in Dacula and Lawrenceville. Janna and her husband Tim owned a childcare center for 20 years and have received 3 Georgia state accreditations.

One of the tenets of the Georgia State Accreditation process requires expanded procedures for emergencies. Janna reached out to local public school systems and asked how Kids’ Galaxy could be better prepared to handle emergencies and to train their staff. Janna helped the Dacula location achieve a quality rating from the State, and she is in the process of helping Lawrenceville achieve a quality rating, and they just received their 30-day approval.

Shelter In Place

The ice storm came on quickly, and people didn't act fast enough. Many parents were stuck on highways and icy roadways, and they were unable to reach Kids’ Galaxy. Luckily, with Janna’s prior training and accreditations, Kids’ Galaxy anticipated the storm, and the staff kept abreast of the weather, allowing them to shelter-in-place.

Janna used a checklist to make sure everything was ready for a shelter-in-place scenario, and she quickly communicated with parents via Facebook and the internet. No one was sure what was going to happen at that point, but she and her staff remained calm and assured parents that Kids’ Galaxy would stay open, and the children would be cared for, safe, and fed for as long as it took.

Janna said, “In 20 years, that was the first time we ever had to shelter-in-place, but I was prepared for that situation regardless.”

We Were Prepared for the Ice Storm

Although she didn’t know how bad the storm was going to be, Janna made sure there was enough food at the facility to feed the children and the staff. She also purchased battery-operated flashlights and gathered extra bedding and clothing in case the power went out. When the storm hit, Janna sprang into action. She dismissed staff that lived further away, and the staff that lived close by stayed to help with the children.

Kids’ Galaxy Kept The Children Calm Throughout the Night

Parents came throughout the night and early morning to pick up their children. Janna and her husband both stayed until the last child was picked up at 3:00 AM. The last pickup is normally 6:30 PM, so this was a very different evening for many of the children.

Janna kept the kids calm by:

  • Talking about the storm.

  • Telling the children that their parents would be picking them up soon.

  • Letting the kids touch the snow.

  • Feeding the children.

  • Keeping the children entertained with activities.

  • Putting the babies to sleep.

  • The staff placed the mats and blankets in one room to supervise all the sleeping children.

The majority of kids were comfortable because they were familiar with the providers at Kids’ Galaxy. However, the day was not without challenges as many children began to wonder where their parents were. Janna settled, comforted, and fed the children until their parents came to pick them up. The parents were very appreciative and thankful that Kids’ Galaxy stayed open that night because they knew that their children were in a safe, caring and familiar environment.

Lessons Learned

While Janna and her team did a wonderful job - the experience was not the same for everyone. Let’s take a moment to learn from this situation. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If parents could not get to my program, how long would I be able to keep children comfortable, warm and safe?

  • How would I communicate with parents during a situation like this?

  • What are my policies and procedures for staff? Would I let them leave or would I ask them to stay?

  • What additional items do I need to get to ensure children can be comfortable for unplanned prolonged periods of time?

  • Do I have enough blankets, batteries, flashlights? Do staff know where these items are kept and how to use them?

We greatly appreciate Janna Rookis for sharing her story and providing us with valuable insights. We are part of a wonderful community - and there is much we can learn from each other! Speaking of which, if you’re a child care provider and have a story to share about your emergency preparedness experience, contact us today!

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness has decades of experience in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery, and we are proud to offer our training in English and Spanish. Book a training with us today:



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