Interstates paralyzed by snow, ice: What would TN do? - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Interstates paralyzed by snow, ice: What would TN do?

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Tracye Hutchins / WGCL Tracye Hutchins / WGCL
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Drivers stranded on icy Tennessee roads would see state troopers, Red Cross volunteers and even National Guard soldiers sent to help them, emergency managers said Wednesday.

The state constantly refines plans to handle situations like those seen across the southeast this week, where people became trapped as interstates iced over.

In Atlanta alone, one million drivers tried to get home during Tuesday's storm. The ensuing gridlock forced many to spend the night in their cars as roads became impassable.

The state practices for similar scenarios using "tabletop" exercises, said Jeremy Heidt with Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

If drivers were to become trapped on state roads or interstates, TEMA would direct local resources to help.

For example, Red Cross volunteers would open emergency warming shelters every few miles along the interstate. The locations are already picked, authorities would just have to "pull the trigger," Heidt said.

State troopers would be among the first to reach stranded drivers. TEMA has already distributed blankets that are carried in THP cruisers during winter months.

The agency also keeps an inventory of local and state departments that have four-wheel drive vehicles. Those employees would also be sent to help in treacherous areas.

Authorities often improvise to help drivers in an emergency. The state recently bought hundreds of grilled cheese sandwiches from a Waffle House to feed those stranded in East Tennessee, Heidt said.

In more extreme situations, National Guard members and humvees could be sent in to reach stranded drivers.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation takes extra effort to prevent major roads from becoming impassable.

TDOT typically asks drivers not to travel during winter storms, so crews can treat roads faster, said spokeswoman Deanna Lambert.

However, extreme cold can render salt and brine treatments ineffective at preventing ice.

If a large number of drivers were to get stranded, the state's yellow HELP units would try to reach as many people as possible, Lambert said. But TDOT's primary focus remains on treating and clearing the roads.

Drivers should always be prepared to wait out a storm in their car if necessary, Heidt said. That means having blankets, food and water on hand.

If you do get stranded, officials say it's best to wait for help to arrive.

"Stay in your car," Heidt said, adding people often aren't dressed to walk several miles in the cold.

A smartphone app from TEMA can also help in an emergency. Ready TN compiles TDOT road conditions, Red Cross locations and contact information for local agencies. It is available for iPhone and Android.

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