A plan to keep Buffalo businesses open during emergencies by assigning travel permits to vital employees was unveiled Tuesday in City Hall.
Officials expect the Corporate Emergency Access System, a first-in-the-nation pilot program, to be in effect by the second week of January.
They hope the plan, developed by the city and the business community, eventually will be adopted by communities throughout Erie County.
Cities across the nation also will be watching to see how the Buffalo experiment turns out, said Deputy Fire Commissioner John W. Sniderhan, the city's disaster coordinator.
Under the system, photo identification similar to a driver's license will be issued to those designated "critical corporate employees" by their companies. The credentials will be needed to drive or work in the city during snow emergencies, chemical spills, terrorist threats or whenever else a travel ban and building-occupancy restrictions are in effect.
Failure to produce the pass during an enforcement check will result in a $52.50 fine.
The size of the company will determine how many workers may get credentials. Firms with 20 or fewer employees may designate 25 percent as essential; those with 21 to 100 employees, 20 percent; 101 to 1,000 employees, 15 percent; and more than 1,000 employees, 10 percent.
The system is designed to minimize business losses during emergencies like January's record two-week snowfall, which brought city traffic and commerce to a standstill.
"Closing down poses big, big problems," Mayor Anthony M. Masiello told the session, attended by bankers and other business executives. "When we have a state of emergency, you lose productivity and revenue. We'll afford you the ability to work with key personnel in those situations."
Designed by a statewide task force, the program will be managed by city Office of Disaster Preparedness and the Business Network of Emergency Resources, or B-Net, at 275 Oak St. Emergency-access credentials may be obtained from B-Net, which is funded in part by a state-federal grant.
The system will require each employee to complete a two-hour training course, after which the employee must submit his or her name, credential number and training certificate to B-Net, which will then issue the ID. Each name will go into a database B-Net will share with local public-safety agencies.
Information will be available within the week on the Buffalo Better Business Bureau Web site, www.buffalo.bbb.org, or at 842-2667, Ext. 180.