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WILKES-BARRE — With the winter season approaching, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton, and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield held an event last week to outline the commonwealth’s plans for winter services, highlighting the tools the public can use to successfully prepare for the season.

“Our number one priority is safety, and that guides our winter preparations and operations,” Richards said. “We are ready for the season ahead and want the public to prepare and be aware of the tools available to them.”

The public can also access travel information on nearly 40,000 state-maintained roadway miles year-round at www.511PA.com, and during the winter they can find plow-truck locations and details of when state-maintained roadways were last plowed. The information is made possible by PennDOT’s Automated Vehicle Location technology, which uses units in each of the over 2,500 department-owned and rented plow trucks to send a cellular signal showing where a truck is located. Motorists can expect additional enhancements to 511PA throughout the winter season.

“We started winter planning after the last season ended, and we encourage the public to not only take advantage of these travel tools, but also make sure they’re prepared as well,” Richards said. “Winter maintenance is a critical and difficult task, and motorists are partners in making this season a safe one.”

To help the public prepare for the season and share information about winter services, PennDOT offers operational information and traveler resources at www.penndot.gov/winter. The site also has a complete winter guide with detailed information about winter services in each of PennDOT’s 11 engineering districts.

This winter, the turnpike commission, is prepared to battle the elements as well, with 380 trucks, plows and salt spreaders and 400 licensed equipment operators ready to activate 24/7 staffing this fall. Their goal is to keep the Turnpike system as free of snow and ice as possible, but motorists too have a responsibility to know their own winter driving skills and their vehicle’s performance.

With $223 million budgeted for this winter’s statewide operations, PennDOT deploys about 4,500 on-the-road workers, has more than 620,000 tons of salt on hand across the state and will take salt deliveries throughout the winter.

PennDOT is actively seeking more than 500 temporary equipment operators statewide for the winter season to supplement the department’s full-time staff. Details on minimum requirements, such as possession of a CDL, as well as application information​, are available at www.employment.pa.gov. Through the same website, job seekers can apply for other types of non-operator, winter positions such as diesel and construction equipment mechanics, welders, clerks and more.

If motorists encounter snow or ice-covered roads, they should slow down, increase their following distance and avoid distractions. Last winter in Pennsylvania, preliminary data shows that there were 440 crashes resulting in one fatality and 221 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive-driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.

Padfield said it’s important to know the difference between a weather watch and warning:

• A watch means there is increased risk of a hazardous weather event, but its occurrence, location, or timing is still uncertain. Pay attention to forecasts and plan out what you will do if/when it occurs.

• A warning means the weather event is imminent or is happening. Take immediate action to protect lives and property.

• In addition, snow squalls can often produce dangerous and deadly travel hazards on otherwise clear winter days. The National Weather Service now issues “Snow Squall Warnings” which alert drivers of whiteout conditions and slippery roadways, so motorists can avoid traveling directly into these dangerous squalls.

Public encouraged

to receive flu vaccine

The Department of Health last week reminded residents that it is time to get their flu vaccine, as flu season officially starts this month and runs until May.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine encouraged residents to get their flu vaccine before the end of October and offered important tips to stay healthy during flu season.

“The flu is serious and can be deadly, which is why it is so important for everyone to take the proper precautions to protect themselves, their loved ones and anyone they meet,” Levine said. “Last year, we had more than 122,000 cases statewide and 258 deaths. It is imperative that you get your flu vaccine now so you can be protected throughout the flu season. There is no better measure to protect yourself than to get a flu vaccine.”

Dr. Levine noted the flu vaccine can often diminish the severity of symptoms a person might experience should they come down with the flu. Flu vaccines are available at your doctor’s office, pharmacy, local walk-in clinic or grocery store. In addition to the flu shot, the flu nasal spray is also available this year, and both are recommended to protect yourself against the flu.

Influenza is a contagious disease, caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the nose, throat and lungs.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year. Everyone 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine each season. It takes about two weeks for the antibodies from the vaccine to develop protection against infection.

Voters urged to request

absentee ballots early

Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar last week encouraged Pennsylvanians to submit requests for absentee ballots well before the Oct. 29 deadline.

State law requires applications for absentee ballots to be submitted no later than one week before Election Day. For this year’s Nov. 5 municipal election, the deadline falls on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Absentee voters must return their voted ballot to their county election office by Friday, Nov. 1.

This is the first election that Pennsylvania voters can apply online for an absentee ballot, which makes the process faster, more convenient and more accessible. In the three weeks since the application site’s launch, more than 13,000 voters have used it to request an absentee ballot, representing one-third of all absentee ballot applications received.

“The new online application is a great option that has already been embraced by thousands of voters,” Boockvar said. “We strongly urge Pennsylvanians planning to vote by absentee ballot to submit their application as soon as possible.”

Voted absentee ballots must be returned by mail or hand-delivered so that county elections offices receive the ballots by 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election. A timely postmark is not sufficient.

AG releases report on

combating bullying

The Office of Attorney General is releasing the TeenTALK Report — a resource guide for students, parents, and educators with recommendations for preventing and intervening in bullying. The report summarizes the feedback gathered during the TeenTALK sessions hosted by the Office around the Commonwealth during the 2018-19 school year.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said bullying is a pervasive issue affecting students across the Commonwealth — one-fifth of Pennsylvania students aged 12-18 are bullied on school property each year, and bullying disproportionately targets students of color, students with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community.

“While this is not a new problem, bullying has taken on a new shape and a new intensity since I was in school due to the rise of the internet and social media,” Shapiro said. “It is critical that we listen to the students about what they are experiencing and what support they need, and that we act to ensure everyone feels safe at school.”

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Shapiro said the students who participated in the TeenTALKs outlined three focus areas where improvement is needed regarding bullying prevention and mental health services in schools: student mental health services staffing, data reporting gaps, and funding to support bullying prevention, mental health programs and other positive climate initiatives.

Some of the recommendations include expanding mechanisms for students to report school climate and safety concerns, implementing trainings for staff to learn prevention and intervention techniques, and establishing a consistent policy for investigating reports of bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment.

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