Photo by Maria Furukawa

In response to the approach of Hurricane Irma, Tech’s Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) announced on Sunday, Sept. 10 that campus would be closed the following Monday and Tuesday.

Days of discussion and months of preparation precede each time campus is closed or an emergency is handled.

OEP coordinates with the executive leadership team and GTPD as well as facilities, housing, transportation, dining and other services for each closure.

In the week before Hurricane Irma made landfall on the eastern coast of the United States, OEP was briefed by the National Forecast Office and kept up constant communication with other emergency preparedness services.

At this point, OEP reaches out to the campus community via social media in order to inform everyone that they are aware of the situation and a decision about the status of campus will be
made soon.

In this case, and in all other weather emergencies, OEP begins talking with executive members of administration at Tech, such as the president, various executive vice presidents, the provost and others, early on.

“As we see things coming that may impact the Institute and may impact safety, we start letting a lot of our different stakeholder groups on campus know,” said Will Smith, director of emergency preparedness. “The big thing, besides just giving them information, is we start having conversations and anticipating. With weather, we have a little bit of an opportunity to get ahead of it.”

Eventually, the governor issued a state of emergency for all counties in Georgia for Monday and Tuesday, and Tech followed suit.

“The logic behind closing Monday and Tuesday was that if we did get a significant impact, we would need time early Tuesday to do a true damage assessment and really understand the impacts on campus and in the greater community so that we could give a full appraisal to the executive leadership team on whether or not the campus was ready to be
opened,” Smith said.

Often, President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and other executives are highly involved in making the closed-campus decision, and are given the final say in whether or not it stays open. Peterson himself is known to walk around campus, appraising conditions and keeping an eye on safety issues.

When campus closures occur, OEP is concerned with suspending operations on campus that can wait, like classes, and retaining essential services that feed and house those that live on campus.

In most cases of severe weather, OEP tries to keep people off the roads in order to make way for vehicles that will clean up from the event as well as keep people safe.

Campus reopens only when it is determined that campus and the surrounding communities will provide a strong enough infrastructure for students, staff and faculty to return to campus
and class.

OEP is in the spotlight rarely — usually when Georgia Tech Emergency Notification Services issues an alert in a case that there is an imminent threat and immediate action is required. However, OEP works throughout the year to respond to, prevent and prepare for the next challenge they have
to confront.