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DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT

If Buffalo is going to be known as the snow capital -- regardless of meteorological data to the contrary -- the city might as well capitalize by showing the rest of the country how to cope.

For one thing, there's the public-relations benefit of what officials call a first-in-the-nation permit system to let essential employees at some businesses get to work during snow emergencies and other catastrophes. For another, there's the practical benefit.

The plan put together by the Masiello administration and others is not aimed at keeping the corner store open. That would make little sense in an emergency because a driving ban would mean most customers wouldn't be able to get to retail outlets, anyway. Rather, the aim is to let major companies with far-reaching operations bring in enough employees to keep those operations functioning. The goal is to prevent them from losing business to competitors elsewhere and to prevent Buffalo from suffering another public-relations black eye whenever a big snow or other emergency hits.

To the contrary, the city should win plaudits for having a plan that works while other snow-belt cities throw up their hands and wait for a thaw.

What kind of workers would be covered? Officials say the list of essential employees eligible for the permits could include systems managers at banks, who have to keep ATM networks and other components of a regional or national operation functioning if the institution isn't to suffer irreparable losses.

Or it could include call centers, which are located here but handle transactions from around the country. Or it could include major industrial firms here that make parts that are shipped to plants elsewhere and whose inability to operate could have major economic ramifications.

In essence, the plan adds economically essential operations to the traditional list of employers -- hospitals, emergency-services companies and the like -- that have always been exempt from travel bans.

That makes good sense for a city that can't afford to do anything that needlessly makes it hard for businesses to operate and turn a profit.

Depending on the size of the company and the nature of its business, up to a quarter of its employees could be eligible for driving permits, which must be obtained in advance. The system will take the guesswork out of who's allowed to drive during an emergency, making the permit the vehicular equivalent of an American Express card. Those who do leave home without one will be fined.

The effort is a sensible solution to a problem that plagues police and other emergency workers who have to deal with drivers who really shouldn't be on the road. At the same time, it puts the city out front as one recognizing that economic vitality depends on keeping essential companies open.

It's a plan that will give Buffalo a reputation as a city that knows how to take care of business -- literally -- even in an emergency.