Countywide state of emergency restricts travel

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

A state of emergency in Montgomery County includes a mandatory advisory prohibiting unnecessary travel, officials citing the safety of the constituency and first responders.

Since posting the emergency declaration on its Facebook page Monday, the county Office of Emergency Management has been bombarded with questions about what's considered necessary travel and what is not.

To be clear, traveling to and from work and school are considered "necessary," interim emergency management director Rick Sager said.

"Obviously, if people have to go to work, have to go to the hospital, that's necessary travel," Sager said. Unnecessary travel is stuff like driving to go buy video games, or driving to the local bar and grill."

"We don't want people gallivanting around, joy riding and looking at the storm damage," said appointed emergency management director Adam Schwabrow. "It's not restricting people from going to work."

Sager said if people have to go to the grocery store to buy supplies, that's considered necessary, though he thinks those preparations should have been done before the declaration went into effect.

Another thing Sager defined as necessary travel is if people lose power and want to drive to a family member or friend who does have power.

"A lot of people just stay in their homes until the power comes back on, but if someone has younger kids who want to get to their family's house, or an elderly person on oxygen needs to get to a generator, those are all things considered necessary travel," he said.

Shelters have been set up across the county for people who do lose their power: Fonda-Fultonville Central School, Fort Plain Jr./Sr. High School, and the R.J. McNulty Academy for International Studies and Literacy on Brandt Place, Amsterdam.

"We made sure there were several so people were close to home, and if they needed to get plugged in, they could," Sager said. "Again, I'll use the example of an elderly person who needs a generator for their oxygen."

Sager isn't expecting any mandatory evacuations from the storms, which are forecast to bring more wind than rain.

The state of emergency will remain in effect until officials deem the potential threat to be gone. Until then, they warn motorists violating the order could be ticketed by law enforcement officials.

"It will be up to the local law enforcement agency," Sager said. "If you get yourself in a dangerous situation, you stand to be ticketed."

The travel advisory is for people's protection, to keep them out of harm's way, Sager said. The predicted wind patterns will likely down trees and power lines.

"We don't want people to get hurt, and we don't want to have to put emergency personnel in danger, either," said county Board of Supervisors Chairman John Thayer, the supervisor of Root. "That's the main point of a state of emergency."

Sager said less traffic will also make it easier for utility employees and emergency personnel to make beelines for their intended destinations.

Some have been critical of the travel restrictions, but Schwabrow said it's all about preparedness.

"If we didn't declare the state of emergency, and something happened, people would complain we didn't do more," he said. "It's a double-edged sword, but we just want to keep people safe, even if people are critical because it maybe inconveniences them."