Erie County is launching a new online portal to help local employers identify who is an essential worker during snowstorms and other emergencies that require a driving ban to be declared.
The travel exemption portal will determine who would be exempt from a travel ban and allowed to travel to and from work. They will be defined by specific categories of workers using a tiered system.
That already includes law enforcement and other public safety personnel, along with health care and utility maintenance workers.
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said that under the New York State Public Officers law, a driving ban can be issued only after a state of emergency has been declared by the head of a local municipality.
Driving bans are issued mainly to protect life and property or to help bring an emergency situation under control by opening up the roads while restoring essential services as quickly as possible.
“When we issue a travel ban, we often have many people on the roads who are not responding to the emergency, who are not providing assistance in the emergency,” said Poloncarz, who was was joined Thursday by Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., the county’s commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
“They may be going to a family member’s house. They may be coming from Joe’s Pizza to make a pizza delivery. They may be any type of other business that is not essential in a snowstorm or emergency,” he added.
To help avoid those scenarios in future emergencies or weather events, Poloncarz said the county has been working with its partners in the federal government to come up with a list of who is essential when driving bans are put in place.
Also, under state law, violation of a travel ban is a class A misdemeanor which carries a possible $500 fine.
“We often hear that ‘I was told I had to go in to work because I’m essential.’ Well, New York State law specifically states that in a travel ban or driving ban, the only people who can be on the road are essential vehicles and emergency personnel,” Poloncarz said. “So, if you’re (a barista) and told by your employer, ‘(You’ve) got to come in,’ no, the place shouldn’t even be open.”
Local employers can access the portal online by visiting erie.gov/dhses. That’s where they can apply for exemption status for their employees whom they believe perform critical job functions.