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Monitoring and preparation key to winter safety

Cook Hall in snow

The historic Cook Hall after a winter 2013 snowstorm.

As a StormReady University, Illinois State University takes preparation for weather-related emergencies very seriously. Local weather conditions are monitored for threats year-round, but wintertime adds an extra sense of vigilance.

“We’re monitoring National Weather Service forecasts and storm advisories very closely during the winter months,” said Eric Hodges, Illinois State’s campus emergency manager. “Ice, snow, and extreme cold can have a major impact on University operations, but we have a well-developed process for keeping the campus open, operating, and safe during winter weather.”

In the event of a severe winter storm, Illinois State emergency management personnel take part in a 3 a.m. conference call that includes representatives from the National Weather Service, local highway and street departments, local schools and universities, and major area employers. A weather briefing and reports on local road conditions give conference call participants the information they need to make crucial operating decisions in the early morning hours.

“In the event that a winter storm is severe enough to warrant altering University operations, we will make the decision very early in the morning and convey that information to the entire campus community by 5:30 a.m.,” said Hodges. “Those decisions might include a delayed opening or even closure of the university, if the conditions are too dangerous for travel and safety.”

Hodges says delayed starts, early dismissals, and outright closures due to winter weather have only happened a few times in recent years, and they were the result of certain criteria being met. “Extreme cold, with wind chills of negative 40 or below are a severe frostbite risk,” said Hodges. “We’re also watching to see if ice accumulation is outpacing efforts to salt roads and sidewalks, and whether white-out or blizzard conditions are making travel on area roads dangerous. Many students, staff, and faculty live outside of the Bloomington-Normal area, so we take into account that many people have to commute a distance to get to campus.”

Notifying the campus by 5:30 a.m. of a delayed start or a closure is done through different channels including an all-campus email message, notification on the University homepage, social media posts, and a text message through the ISU Emergency Alert system. Information is also sent to local media outlets.

Hodges notes that the intention is to keep Illinois State open and operating when it is deemed safe to do so. The University’s Grounds workers play a key role in preparing the campus for students, faculty, staff, and visitors during winter weather. Even in relatively minor winter weather events, Grounds workers are on the job in the early morning—sometimes at 2 a.m. in more severe weather—to plow, salt sidewalks, and clear access to campus buildings. That work then continues throughout the day.

“Our Grounds workers are key partners in keeping the campus safe during winter weather events,” said Hodges. “I can’t say enough good things about their hard work. They’re the unsung heroes of the campus during the long winter season.”

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