Winter’s coming: Here’s what happens at SRU when the snow flies

cars in snow

Dec. 1, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Twenty days and counting.

That's when winter officially begins. But if history is any predictor of things to come, winter is sure to rear its snowy head well before its Dec. 21 due date.

According to the Farmers' Almanac, the winter of 2015-2016 is looking like a repeat of last winter, at least in terms of temperatures and anticipated snowfalls. As Peter Geiger, Almanac editor noted, "Depending on where you live and how much cold and snow you like, we have bad news and we have good news..."

The bad news for Slippery Rock University students, faculty and staff is that the University is sure to get hit with at least one of winter's "snow dumps." The good news is that there is a plan for how the University deals with such weather events.

"The University has just concluded a comprehensive review of its weather policy," said Rita Abent, executive director for communication and public affairs. "We're as prepared as we can be for a variety of situations."

Those situations could include anything from snow to freezing rain to floods to hazardous winds; weather events that could cause the temporary cancellation of all or part of the University's scheduled academic and extracurricular programs.

"The University is committed to fulfilling its instructional obligations," Abent said. "The goal is to conduct classes and activities as scheduled as long as the University can maintain reasonable conditions on campus and the roads in the immediate area are reasonably passable."

Should severe weather threaten, a team comprised of representatives from the University Police, facilities and communication and public affairs is charged with assessing the situation and advising the president and provost as to whether or not classes should be canceled, if a two-hour delay should be implemented or if the University should open, remain open, close or be on a two-hour delay.

"During a weather event, our day starts around 4:30 a.m.," Abent said. "We gather reports from the weather service, PennDot and the Pennsylvania State Police regarding road conditions or travel advisories. We also get an assessment from our own facilities crew as to the condition of campus walkways, parking lots and roads. Student, faculty, staff and visitor safety is our first concern."

Once a decision is made to delay classes, or to close the University, the communication and public affairs staff kicks into high gear to notify the media, send out e2Campus alerts, post the information to social media, alert the University switchboard, send a campus email and put the notification on the University homepage.

"Every effort is made to have a decision made by 6 a.m. so there is time to get the word out," Abent said.

According to the University Weather Policy, should the University close for a severe weather event, the closing applies to all campus locations and to all academic and extracurricular activities, this includes, but is not limited to: athletic events, plays, performances, guest lecturers and campus rentals. In the event of a closing, only those personnel and offices identified as "essential," are required to work and/or be open.

"We have nearly 2,000 students that live on campus, so it's critical we maintain certain functions. Provisions will be made to keep Dining Services, Health Services, Residence Halls, University Police, the Switchboard and the University Help Desk up and running," Abent said.

"It's important for students to understand that a class cancellation does not imply that there is no class assignment for that day," Abent said. "Students need to check D2L and their University email for readings or other assignments that can be completed through electronic means. Faculty are encouraged to post such material by 10 a.m."

Two years ago the University implemented a two-hour weather delay option that provides a compressed schedule for the day. "Sometimes the information we receive during a weather event indicates that a system might be moving out, or that roads, walkways and parking lots are in the process of being plowed but they might not be ready by 8 a.m. In such cases the University might choose to implement a two-hour delay and open at 10 a.m. Again, when we have a two-hour delay it applies to everyone except for essential personnel and services," Abent said.

Electing to delay the opening of the University or to close it is never an easy decision. "There are a number of variables we have to take into consideration. It's not an exact science. The weather might be terrible at 5 a.m. but by 8 a.m. it's clear and folks wonder why we delayed or closed. Likewise, sometimes a decision is made to open and we get hit with an unexpected weather event around 8 a.m. and people wonder why we opened," she said.

Should a weather event hit during the day, the same evaluation process takes place to determine if evening classes, those starting at 5 p.m. or later, should be canceled. The team tries to make that call by 3 p.m. to provide time for notifications to take place.

Abent said she has a couple of pieces of advice for the University community regarding weather events. "First, sign up for e2Campus alerts. That's the quickest way to get emergency information. Second, listen or read carefully whether or not the University is open, closed or has a delayed opening. Sometimes in the volumes of notifications on television, people will think they saw a closing when we are really having a delay. That's why checking the homepage, your SRU email or getting a text alert is important. And, if you're a student, don't forget to check D2L for any possible assignments."

"During hazardous weather conditions it's up to each individual to use their discretion in deciding whether they can safely commute to work or classes," Abent said. "Based upon the information we have for SRU and the immediate area, we try to make the most informed decision possible regarding closings or delays, but we can't know everyone's situation. Safety first should be everyone's consideration."

To access the University's Weather Policy, visit:

http://www.sru.edu/Documents/web/University-SevereWeatherPolicy.pdf

To access the University's Compressed Class Schedule, visit:

http://www.sru.edu/Documents/web/compressed-class-schedule.pdf

To sign up for e2Campus alerts, visit:

http://www.sru.edu/offices/university-communication-and-public-affairs/e2campus-alerts

MEDIA CONTACT: Robb King | 724.738.2199 | robert.king@sru.edu