Inclement weather and what it takes to close campus

With record low temperatures reminiscent of the “Snowpocalypse of 2011,” which shut down Tech for its first week of classes, many students thought something similar would happen this year as well. However, it will take more than just cold temperatures to shut down Tech’s entire campus again.

According to the Office of Emergency Preparedness, Tech would shut down its campus due to inclement weather if there were extremely dangerous road conditions that make it too hazardous for students, faculty and staff to travel to or around campus. Dangerous conditions could also include extended and widespread power outages, but the campus will adjust accordingly for other extenuating circumstances.

“We use a systematic approach to our process for tackling winter weather and for decisions surrounding an upcoming weather event. We have checklists based on National Weather Service’s advisories and warnings,” said Andy Altizer the Emergency Preparedness Director. “Saying this, since no event is ever the same and there always seems to be a few unexpected wrinkles, we must continue to rely on common sense, collaboration and effective coordination.”

Ultimately the decision for a campus closing comes from President Peterson or his designee, and these decisions are usually made with close guidance from key executive staff as well as the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD). This core group will weigh a number of factors that primarily focus on the impact that the weather will have, such as any anticipation of heavy snow or ice and whether or not roadways, sidewalks and parking lots could be kept clear.

When inclement weather conditions are expected, they are continually monitored by the appropriate channels on campus. If a major event was happening overnight, Peterson, the Institute’s Executive Vice Presidents and the Office of Emergency Preparedness will usually have a 4:30 a.m. discussion in order to make a decision about closing or delaying operations by 5:00 a.m. so that the announcement can be made in time for commuters.

Key groups on campus went through this entire process earlier this week before the colder days were experienced on campus. Institute Communications worked with the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency (AFCEMA) to maintain a current assessment of conditions in the region. Tech Facilities had a large crew in place by 3:00 a.m. Monday to begin drying roadways and treating trouble spots. By 5:00 a.m., they had pretreated difficult areas like the 5th Street Bridge. GTPD patrol units monitored campus throughout the night, and the Emergency Preparedness team was on campus by 3:30 a.m. to evaluate the roadways on and around campus to consult AFCEMA and nearby institutions.

When decisions are made, announcements come from Institute Communications and are sent out via numerous channels, including being posted to the main Institute web page and shared via social media channels.

“We’re always planning for the next hazard while incorporating lessons learned from our past experiences. Every winter, the weather scenario is different…This is a matter of constantly enhancing the state of readiness at Georgia Tech,” Altizer said.