Campus closures: Q&A with Lynne Williams, director of marketing and public relations
While many departments at UMD participate in the decision to close campus in the event of bad weather, Williams is responsible for sending SafeU and text message alerts to all on campus. She provided some perspective on what it takes to close campus.
Q: What process does UMD use to close campus in the event of a major winter storm?
A: “Well there are a lot of people involved. Generally, when we hear the forecast, someone usually sends out a message to Chancellor Black, the three vice chancellors, UMD’s chief of police, UMD’s facilities director, and me, UMD’s communications director. We then discuss and figure out the severity and probability of a major weather event. After this, I will then go out and look at the events calendar in order to make arrangements and contingency plans.”
“Typically storms blow in overnight, so most of the time we are up at 5:30 in the morning, talking again to the facilities director and the chief of police. The police are looked upon to provide a report on the roads around campus, evaluating if students can make it to school or not.”
Q: Who is primarily involved in making the final decision?
A: “Ultimately, the chancellor and vice chancellors are in charge of the final decision. If Chancellor Black is out of town, then the duty will be delegated to one of the vice chancellors. These are the main people making the decision, but there are five or six others in the conversation.”
Q: What are some things that you look for on campus before making the decision?
A: “We talk a lot about what campus looks like. Are the sidewalks clear? Are the roads clean? Are Dining Services able to make it in to provide students with food? There are a lot of logistical issues that can arise when presented with severe weather. We have to make sure campus can be up and running.”
Q: How big of a role do road conditions play?
A: “Road conditions play a major part in the decision. Like I said above, UMDPD is out checking the streets and roads around campus, making sure others who live off campus can make it to school. Another large factor is the DTA, as so many of our students rely on bussing to school. The DTA also gives us a good gauge on how the rest of Duluth’s roads are fairing. Generally, if the DTA does not run, there is a pretty good chance we will close campus.”
Q: Do you look to any other schools to see what actions they are taking?
A: “Yes, but mainly other colleges and universities. We have a very different audience to what Middle and High Schools have, so it typically they will close before us. We pay more attention to four-year universities like St. Scholastica and the University of Wisconsin – Superior.”
“When wintry weather and high winds eventually come again, consider that there are many individuals in charge of the decision that not only value your safety, but also your academic excellence.”