BOONE, N.C. — When bad weather is in the forecast, approximately 24,000 Appalachian State University students, faculty and staff begin checking their email accounts, refreshing the university homepage and monitoring social media. Academic and work deadlines weigh heavily on their minds. Many have to balance these with work or local school system schedule changes as well. How will they know what to do? When will they know what to do?
According to Jason Marshburn, App State’s director of environmental health, safety and emergency management, it’s a complex and highly orchestrated process.
The decision begins within the university’s emergency management system. App State has a large team called the Emergency Management Task Force, led by the Department of Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management (EHS&EM). This team is made up of representatives from across the university, including the Chancellor’s Office, Academic Affairs, Human Resources, Facilities Operations, University Communications, Student Affairs and App State Police. These individuals are trained to respond in the event of anything from a minor weather event to a major, universitywide emergency.
The team represents a larger group of staff and administrators who are responsible for ongoing preparation for incidents — from minor weather issues to catastrophic events — that could impact normal campus operations.
What goes into making this decision?
- A small team of representatives from Emergency Management, App State Police, Academic Affairs, Human Resources, Facilities Operations, Student Affairs and University Communications, led by Marshburn, considers weather forecasts, road conditions, public transportation schedules and campus operations. This team makes a recommendation about campus operational status to Chancellor Sheri Everts. Marshburn emphasized that the safety of the campus community is always the primary concern.
- Once the final decision is made, campus is notified via email, website postings to the university homepage and appstatealert.com, the university’s emergency messaging website. The university also records the decision on its snow line (828-262-SNOW), posts notifications on its Facebook and Twitter pages, and distributes messages to local media outlets. Marshburn said, typically, it takes about 30 minutes to complete this process.
What decisions are made and what do they mean?
When a weather event causes the university to not operate regularly, two key decisions must be made and communicated to campus:
- Whether to cancel in-person class meetings, and if so, for how long.
- Whether to require employees to come to work, and if so, which ones.
The key decision in both cases, said Marshburn, is safety — for students and for employees, many of whom are also students.
When classes cannot be held on campus due to inclement weather, faculty are encouraged to shift to online teaching methods. Each college or school at App State has a consultant assigned by the university’s Center for Academic Excellence, who assists faculty in utilizing technology so students’ learning can be continued, even if face-to-face class meetings cannot take place.
Even when weather events lead to classes not meeting on campus, key designated personnel must report to work or remain at work in order to keep essential operations running smoothly.
Under the campus Adverse Weather and Emergency Closing Policy, a list of operations designated as “mandatory operations” must be maintained during adverse weather events. Generally, employees whose work is necessary to maintain these mandatory operations are designated as “mandatory.”
App State Police, Campus Dining, Telecommunications, Facilities Operations (which is responsible for clearing roads, sidewalks and parking areas), University Housing and Student Health Service are all among the teams classified as mandatory. Other areas include University Libraries, the Student Recreation Center and Plemmons Student Union.
Under special conditions such as adverse weather, mandatory employees are focused primarily on performing their critical functions and duties so the university can resume normal operations as soon as possible.
Marshburn said when he talks to people about the process of managing the logistics of the special operations conditions caused by inclement weather, many are surprised at how complex it is. Perhaps, counterintuitively, this is how he likes it. “When people don’t notice, it means we are doing our jobs well,” he said, “and that’s exactly what we want.”
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AppState-ALERT is the Appalachian State University 24/7 emergency messaging system. Using a combination of text messaging, voice messaging, the siren warning system, email and web technologies, AppState-ALERT is designed to provide Appalachian students, faculty and staff with timely information in the event of a campus emergency. Cell phone, text and voice messages will be sent by the university only when an emergency exists that is considered an "imminent threat." An imminent threat is defined as a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the life and safety of the campus community. Learn more at https://emergency.appstate.edu/appstate-alert.
About EHS&EM at Appalachian
The Department of Environmental Health, Safety, and Emergency Management (EHS&EM) at Appalachian State University works in coordination with other departments across campus to build a safe and prepared campus in support of the university’s commitment to campus safety. The department’s primary responsibility is environmental health, safety and emergency management functions across campus. Learn more at https://ehsem.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.