When a local emergency is declared on county roads, is it still OK to drive to work?
Putnam County officials hope to clarify an answer for that common question when they consider a revised ordinance concerning travel on local roads during a declared emergency.
A draft of the ordinance, with its four levels of alerts, is being considered by Putnam County Commissioners Jim Baird, Gene Beck and Kristina Warren.
State officials have asked all counties to put together an ordinance to standardize the emergency levels statewide, county planner Kim Hyten said as he presented the ordinance. The main reason for that, he said, was the differing definitions of alerts released to the media around the state during last year's weather-related events.
The new rules should also clarify for employees and employers when people can safely travel.
"In the past, some of the concerns with declaring an emergency have been for people going to work and people (calling 911 dispatch) and asking for written excuses to show employers," Hyten said. "So with this, we are getting out of that business."
The executive order declaring an emergency will still be made by the commissioners after consulting with the county emergency management director. They will have the option of declaring:
* A level one emergency that restricts travel to emergency personnel only.
* A level two warning when conditions threaten public safety. Only essential traffic is recommended, such as to and from work and for emergency situations. Businesses, schools, government agencies and other organizations should implement their emergency action plans to determine if travel is required.
* A level three watch when routine travel or activities may be restricted in an area because of a hazardous situation. The public should use caution or avoid these areas. Schools and businesses may implement their emergency action plans.
* A level four caution to be issued when a condition may develop that limits or hinders travel or activities in isolated areas. No travel restrictions are reported but citizens should be alert to changing conditions.
None of the levels carry any penalties, Hyten pointed out.
However, police have the discretion of issuing tickets for people who cause traffic hazards by being on the road.
"We can't be in the process of shutting the county down unless there is a major event," Hyten said. "We aren't trying to shut the county down, so to speak, we are just trying to prevent people from making the roads impassable and hindering the efforts of snow removal and emergency vehicles."
The ordinance must be advertised and approved by the commissioners before it goes into effect.
In other business, the commissioners:
* Agreed to have a contest for all school children in the county to design a flag to represent the county. All county schools will be invited to participate. Details of the contest will be worked out through the county planning office.
* Approved the purchase of a utility tractor and mower for the county highway department at a cost of $17,958 from Humphrey's Outdoor Equipment in Greencastle.
* Voted not to sign a letter of intent from Xybix Systems to purchase furniture for the new emergency operations center. The letter asked the county to pay 40 percent of the cost upfront, and the commissioners agreed not to do that.
* Appointed the county cemetery board to include members Richard Lyon, Steve Fenwick, Sharon Baldwin and Sheila Morrison joining current member Marilyn Clearwaters. The state limits the board to five members, though its meetings are also regularly attended by John Sears, Jinsie Bingham and Don Brattain.
* Agreed to all direct deposits of county employee paychecks with First National Bank.
* Agreed that the county clerk's office can send some of its overflow records to the courthouse annex to be stored in one of the vacant locked rooms.
* Saw that the Annex Subcommittee established to assess facility needs will include Scott Hoff as legal counsel, Don Walton from the county council, Baird from the commissioners, Tim Bookwalter as judicial representative and Kim Hyten as planning director.
The next meeting of the commissioners is set for 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4 in the courthouse annex, 209 W. Liberty St., Greencastle. The meeting is open to the public. It will be followed by an executive session to discuss personnel issues.