Preparing for the Storm
The course for cancelling classes
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 14:12
Cancelling classes and shutting down an entire university is a big deal. So who makes that executive decision in regards to a seemingly inevitable winter snowstorm in North Dakota? Surprisingly, any guesses for the President would be wrong.
In the entirety of collaborations and communication, one person would not be sufficient. A team of experienced and executive individuals is essential. That team making winter weather evaluations, recommendations and decisions on behalf of the NDSU campus and community is the Severe Weather Protocol Crisis Management Team, also known as the CMRT.
The entire process of cancelling classes for a winter storm starts with meteorologist and State Climatologist of North Dakota, Adnan Akyüz, who has a doctorate in atmospheric science. Taking into account everything from past and predicted snowfall, wind speeds, wind chill, status of warnings or watches, radar, forecasts, road conditions and previous year’s perspectives, Akyüz is the source of all weather information for the CMRT.
“What is the probability that workers coming in early will run into icy roads?” or “How much snow are we going to have?” are questions that Akyüz continually asks.
Akyüz uses information from the National Weather Service, along with his partners at WDAY and Valley News Live, and finally the North Dakota Department of Transportation to consider all factors of a winter storm that might pose a threat to the safety of the NDSU community.
“We’re blessed to have the State Climatologist here at NDSU,” said Vice President of Finance and Administration Bruce Bollinger. “Adnan gives us alerts two or three days ahead of time, and we know about storms one or two weeks in advance.
Other schools will be calling us wondering what we are doing and what Adnan is suggesting. He’s just a great resource to have.”
When a potentially dangerous situation materializes, Director of University Police and Safety Office Ray Boyer and his team become involved.
Typically at 3:30 a.m., his police communications call center works in conjunction with Facilities Management Director Mike Ellingson, who is also a member of the Severe Weather Protocol Crisis Management Team, to give updates on the status of the campus with road conditions, sidewalks and snow build-up not only on NDSU’s campus, but also for the city of Fargo.
“We end up talking to all of the local schools, the highway department, the weather services, law enforcement throughout the region, and we do this during the middle of the night,” said Boyer.
Opinions and recommendations are then exchanged in a conference call around 4 a.m. between members of the CMRT and personnel from Fargo Public Schools. A decision is usually made at that time.
If a decision has been made that NDSU will be closed, it triggers Boyer’s communications call center to initiate the CENS to notify students, faculty and staff about the decision to close campus.
Once a decision is made, Bollinger informs President Bresciani.
A representative from Fargo Public Schools, who is in contact with officials from all of the local schools in the Fargo-Moorhead area, then relays information back to the CMRT.
“Ideally, we would like to sync up as much as possible with Moorhead State or Fargo Public Schools, but there are reasons sometimes when those schools could close and we would stay open,” said Bollinger.
Since West Fargo or Dilworth does much more busing through the rural areas compared to NDSU or the Fargo Public Schools, synchronization is not always perfect, according to Bollinger.
After communications with local schools, Gina Haugen, the assistant to Bollinger, conveys the information to the NDSU and Fargo community.
After first updating the NDSU website, Haugen sets up the information update line at 231-INFO for those who don’t have Internet access. Then, contact with media stations all around the area is made using passcodes.
“Yes, we have passcodes with the media stations, so they know it’s not a student calling or something,” said Haugen.
“Whenever you’re shutting down such a large organization, it’s complex,” said Bollinger. “Everybody needs to know by a certain time. We need to get it on the TV and the call center; we need to get it to those driving from farther away. We strive to get the information to you as soon as possible.”
Certainly snow and wind are factors that are taken into account, but they are not the only ones.
“In the protocol, it says school closure doesn’t necessarily have to be snow related,” said Akyüz. “It could be dangerously cold situations as well. If the wind chill temperature is minus 50 degrees, it may constitute a late start or complete cancellation of classes.”
“Our heating plant may not be operating at full capacity or we may have power outages that are going to be extended because of ice build-up that have broken transmission lines; these weigh into the need for us to consider closing for other reasons,” said Boyer.
Following a decision to close campus, more questions arise, such as who is allowed on campus, can the dining centers be opened for the students, and what progress can be made to clear the roads and sidewalks on the NDSU campus.
According to Associate Director of Facilities Operations Pete Zimmerman, there is approximately 27 miles of sidewalk and 2 million square feet in a total of 45 parking lots to be cleared and maintained.
“With significant snow events, grounds personnel will be directed to clean all sidewalks, streets and parking lots with priority given to streets and staff lots in an attempt to preserve access for emergency vehicles,” said Zimmerman.
During a winter storm event, conditions can change very rapidly, so the Facilities Management Team makes every effort to maintain a safe environment for both foot and vehicle traffic. Zimmerman described that for a snow/sleet/freezing rain event, up to 49,000 pounds of sand and salt mixture and over 2,000 gallons of liquid ice melt are used could be used prior to and during the event.
“At the end of the day, if the weather is poor, it’s important that students, faculty and staff make their own decisions based on where they live and what feels safe for them,” said Bollinger. “Safety is the number one concern.”