Georgia Governor announces new severe weather alert system

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (C), speaks to the media as Public Safety Director Mark McDonough (L), and Georgia National Guard Director General Jim Butterworth listen at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia, January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

By David Beasley ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, facing heavy criticism for a slow response to last week's winter storm that paralyzed Atlanta, on Monday announced a new severe weather warning system similar to the "Amber Alert" program that sends notification of missing children. "Effective immediately, a storm warning will trigger a message to cell phones in targeted areas, as in the Amber Alert system, and advise against road travel," Deal said in a statement. The state will also email weather updates to school superintendents as they are deciding whether to close schools, Deal said. A state task force appointed by Deal will explore other ways to improve the government response to storms. The governor, a Republican who is seeking re-election this year, was heavily criticized both by members of the public and his political opponents, for the state's slow response to the storm last Tuesday morning. As snow began falling and roads and bridges began to ice over, there was massive traffic gridlock. Some motorists and school buses were stranded overnight. Traffic was so bad a woman delivered a baby, with the assistance of a police officer, in her car along an interstate highway, unable to get to the hospital in time. Hundreds of school children were forced to spend the night at school, their parents unable to pick them up and school buses unable to take them home. Deal late last week admitted that he was not happy with the state's response. "I think we did not respond fast enough," he said. "I would say our preparation was not adequate." Last week, Georgia's Emergency Management Agency director Charley English, who also is currently serving as president of the National Emergency Management Association, said he made a "terrible error in judgment" by not opening the state's emergency operations center sooner. The center coordinates emergency response efforts by various agencies throughout the state. "I got it wrong by at least six hours," English said. "In the future, rest assured, when forecasts change, there will be a much more aggressive response." (Reporting By David Adams; Editing by David Gregorio)