Officials talk protocol for campus closures

With the upcoming icy conditions predicted to plague Huntsville tomorrow morning, university officials go into detail regarding protocol for possible campus closure.

University spokeswoman Julia May said the main concern of the university is that of the wellbeing of its faculty, students and staff.

“Any situation where it was a danger or there were unsafe conditions for faculty, staff and students to come to campus [would suggest the need for campus closure],” May said. “Anything that would affect the safety of our university community.”

According to May, university officials are constantly monitoring weather conditions both online and on television for not only the Huntsville area, but also the Woodlands and Tomball area where the two other branches of the university reside.

“I can’t ever remember a time when [The Woodlands and University Park campuses] were open and we were closed,” May said. “Because we have faculty and students who travel from Huntsville down to the Woodlands to take classes, so if it’s too dangerous here in Huntsville, chances are it’s too dangerous for them to be on the road to get to The Woodlands Center. I don’t ever know of a time and don’t think we’ve ever had to consider that at all.”

The University Police Department also plays a big role in the chain of command regarding campus closures, working closely with the Walker County Office of Emergency Management which, according to UPD Chief Kevin Morris, receives up to date reports from the State of Texas and other coordinating agencies.

“The biggest impact we look at is how an incident would affect agency infrastructure and overall safety,” Morris said. “So for example, if we are talking about a weather event with extremely low temperatures and precipitation, what would the impact be on infrastructure and what would be the impact on travelers? If the roadways became icy and would potentially cause unsafe driving conditions, and if ice accumulated on infrastructure—power lines, sidewalks, then it may be deemed that closures of roadways and/or schools may need to be delayed or cancelled for that day. So depending upon the incident, would depend on the decision that is made.”

After UPD makes an informed recommendation to President Dana G. Hoyt, she either makes the call based on that suggestion or consults with the cabinet who then determines that it’s time to cancel class or not.

From that point, May and a communications team work early in the morning—usually between 4 a.m-5 a.m. to collaborate, gather reports as well as updates. The team goes public with the decision at 6 a.m. which entails contacting deans to let their respective faculty know, employing KatSafe alerts and contacting local media outlets as well as those in the Houston area.
According to May, the most common reason SHSU officials have cancelled class in the past has been due to ice storms. However, she also noted that when Hurricane Ike hit the area in 2008, the campus was closed for a week, teaching campus officials valuable information.

“That was a very good time for us to learn some lessons about weather closing,” May said. “There is no way in the world we could have had class during that time. Power was out all over the area and students had gone home to help their families with the cleanup that was needed after the hurricane struck. We were able to evaluate some of our systems that were in place and also explore ways to improve.”

May said she never tries to predict the weather and relies solely on local meteorologists for her information.

“We don’t make [cancelled days] up, faculty and students have to work fast and furious to make that time up because we will stay on schedule,” May said. “Every year it seems like we have something going on like an ice storm or a flood but fortunately nothing catastrophic or major has hit campus.”


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