Tech communication under the weather

Photo by Casey Gomez

Tech is often slow to act upon reports of inclement weather that may impact campus operations. Historically, the school will not announce closings — or the lack thereof — until the day before, often in the afternoon. This poor communication can cause several issues for both students and instructors. Students who commute may need to have more advance warning of campus closures, while instructors often need to reschedule office hours, change the covered material or even move test dates.

Because emergency cancellations have such a large impact on the campus community, it is important that Tech communicates with the campus in a timely manner when these events arise. In the past, Tech’s slow response speed and lack of effective communication has led to students and instructors being left in the dark about campus closures until the last possible minute.

During the fall semester of 2017, an unexpected amount of snowfall caused Tech to send home all non-essential personnel during a day of final exams. Since Tech announced this closure on the day of those exams, both students and instructors were still expected to attend the regularly scheduled exams. Not only was the cancellation late, it was inconsiderate: Tech considered it too dangerous to keep non-essential personnel on campus, but still expected its academic members to arrive and leave campus during the inclement weather.

Earlier in the same semester, Tech announced a campus closure during Hurricane Irma. In this case, Tech sent out the announcement the night before the first day of the campus shutdown. Even though this was still very short notice, it allowed campus members to adapt their plans for the next two days and did not force anyone into a potentially unsafe situation by having them remain on campus.

A large part of the problem with these situations is that campus members often hear about inclement weather before Tech has a chance to make any announcements on the situation. This leads to a large period of ambiguity as to whether or not Tech will remain open during the event, largely due to Tech’s historical tendency to announce closures at the last minute. Tech needs to be more responsive during these hazardous weather conditions and actively communicate to the community as they arrive at the decision to keep the campus open or to shut it down.

Tech did a fairly good job at communicating during Hurricane Michael. As the hurricane was touching down, the official Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) Twitter account has posted: “Regarding whether classes will be cancelled or business operations altered, we are not anticipating making that recommendation based on the current threat. Any changes will be communicated via GTENS and official Institute social media.”

This announcement is exactly what Tech should strive for in all emergency weather situations: make it clear to the community what the current expectations are and provide information on where and why any changes to the current decision would be announced.

The next step for Tech is to make these communications more widespread. Currently, the bulk of updates on hazardous weather come from the official OEP Twitter account. These announcements are often extremely helpful for informing the community about Tech’s current status during these events. It would greatly benefit both Tech and the campus community if this account was made more visible or even if some of the updates were summarized in a daily email.

Because Tech has had historical problems with communication during inclement weather events, it needs to prove to the community that it is making improvements in its process. Tech has shown a strong first step with their handling of Hurricane Michael but should improve its process by making updates more visible to the community. This would lead to a safer community and to more reliable information on campus cancellations.