That Saturday, March 13, nothing moved. Rome was covered in a blanket of snow and ice that forced residents inside their homes and turned back the clock on simple communication.
The storm had knocked out service to the city and county’s sole radio tower on Mount Alto, said City Manager John Bennett. Law enforcement’s standard method of communication was gone.
“That Saturday night, we didn’t have any communications — the city, the fire department, the police department,” Bennett added. “In 1993, cell phones weren’t what they are today.”
It would prove close to impossible for that situation to repeat itself today, said Scotty Hancock, Floyd County’s Emergency Management Agency director. The county now has 10 communications towers, not just one, and police officers are equipped with two-way radios.
“It changed the way we operated,” Hancock said of the blizzard. “It’s huge.”
The updated communications system cost $23.3 million in special purpose, local option sales tax funds, and includes two-way radios for first responders.
The loss of power to the Mount Alto tower crippled the city and county’s ability to communicate. There was no generator at the tower to keep it running in case of a power failure, and downed trees made the path to the tower treacherous, officials said. No power meant a lack of working gas pumps. It also meant no telephone connections if the wires were above ground.
People with working phones called the local radio station, Q-102, which remained on the air and became law enforcement’s makeshift method of dispatching calls, Bennett said. Government leaders instituted a curfew. An officer on an ATV with a shotgun patrolled downtown Rome.
“By Sunday morning, there was nothing happening,” Bennett said. “There was no traffic on the street. Monday morning, I couldn’t get out of my driveway.”
When the work-week began, city and county leaders began the arduous task of bringing the area back to life. Morning meetings with Georgia Power Co. workers focused on which power lines were hot, ensuring no one was hurt during tree removal, Bennett said.
The debris from the storm’s damage began to build up as trees were removed. Eventually, the state gave Rome and Floyd County permission to burn the debris. That went on for two weeks, Bennett said.
“The blizzard of ’93 — the two biggest things I remember is the inability to communicate and the debris,” Bennett added. “A tornado makes a swath. This was everywhere.”
The city and county’s communications system has completely changed since 1993. Ten communications towers are in the county instead of just one on Mount Alto. Each tower has its own generator and a backup power system, Hancock said.
If a generator fails, it automatically switches to the backup. It’ll run on the backup until crews can fix the generator.
A tower that completely fails would not cripple communications, Hancock said. Some coverage would be lost in that area, but the other working towers would keep first responders connected.
“All that equipment we had in 1993 is obsolete,” Hancock said. “We don’t use that now.”
In 1993, the city and county used different frequencies to communicate. Everyone’s on the same open frequency now, and all agencies can communicate with each other, Hancock added.
Many dead zones existed before the new system. Hancock said the county is covered under the new communications net.