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Editorial: Winter plans must involve many players in county

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IT’S been eight years since city and county officials last declared a countywide snow emergency, but fortunately memories of that unique event still are fresh.

So fresh that local emergency management representatives and officials from both branches of local government have begun discussing the steps that need to be taken should the area be enveloped in a blizzard similar to the one in 2004 when 20-plus inches of the white stuff brought the area to a standstill.

Dennis Moats, Bartholomew County emergency management director, has begun conferring with top officials to outline procedures that have to be followed in extreme weather conditions.

This isn’t a refresher course this year. Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown is in her first year in office, and the Bartholomew County Commissioners will have a new president next year, one who has not had to participate in a snow emergency declaration.

Both the mayor and the president of the commissioners are required to sign the declaration of a snow emergency, and it is important that both officials be provided as much information as possible to be prepared to take that step.

A snow emergency is a much more extreme step than procedures that are followed in most heavy snow situations. In the past, the county has been hit a number of times by accumulations so significant as to force closing schools and canceling events. However, many other facets of daily life are able to continue.

Snow emergencies traditionally have been employed to empty the roads of most traffic so that emergency crews and workers will have an easier time in attempting to clear roads. Safety also is a strong consideration, with the threat of people being trapped in remote areas a real possibility.

With the declaration of a snow emergency comes the strong suggestion that any non-emergency travel should not be attempted. It’s that kind of warning that calls upon emergency management officials to involve many others in the explanation process.

Declaring a snow emergency can have a definite impact on area economies.

When the last one was issued in 2004, Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz (who then was president of the commissioners) recalled that the proclamation was signed “without totally understanding what impact a snow emergency has on local commerce.”

Kleinhenz noted that some employees interpreted the declaration as no driving under any circumstances and stayed home from work, creating problems for their employers.

Moats added that it would be unrealistic to totally ban all driving and that workers should make themselves aware of company policies in such situations.

Obviously, public safety has to be the primary concern in such deliberations, but it is important that everyone who will be affected by such declarations be fully aware of what is involved.

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