With winter approaching, county officials are clarifying the information they will communicate to employers and the public when emergency road conditions make it unsafe to travel on county roads. County officials recognize that the new approach will directly impact employers wishing to verify weather-related employee absences.
“We are changing the terminology that we are going to use when we have bad weather and it becomes necessary to restrict travel on county roads,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.
Brasfield said major businesses often contact county emergency management departments to certify whether a county road can be traveled due to adverse weather conditions, especially ice and snow, in order to excuse employees who cannot safely make it to work.
For years, county engineers and emergency managers have issued blanket statements that county roads are “closed”, which Brasfield said may give residents the impression that the roads will be blocked by county personnel or that there will be some action taken if they elect to use the roads.
In fact, he pointed out, Alabama law requires a commission to hold a public hearing to actually close a road, a step that cannot reasonably be accomplished during a weather event.
“’Closed’ has connotation we have barricaded a road,” Brasfield said. “We do not want the public, or employers, to be confused when they hear the announcements. So it is recommended that counties use the term ‘impassable’ to let the public know that the roads are unsafe.”
According to the new policy, when conditions improve and the county roads are no longer impassible, a blanket notice will be issued that the impassible advisory has been lifted, Brasfield said.
“We had substantial ice events the last four winters in a row resulting in widespread, blanket road problems,” Brasfield said. “When those happen the employers circle back to the counties to receive confirmation that employees could not get to work. We want employers to know this winter counties are shifting to the term ‘impassible’, rather than stating that roads are closed.”