Snow Day

A snow day starts early.

My job includes managing emergency communications, so if there’s any question that we might shut down, I get a call around 4:30 a.m. from the calm-voiced Jon, director of facilities.

He’s always apologetic about having to wake me, and remarkably cheerful given the cold darkness outside and the fact that he’s been up far longer than I.

Between the two of us, we work through the list of factors to consider. How is the plowing going for city streets and for campus parking lots, and what are the campus conditions? What are the other colleges and universities doing? Major school districts in our area? Are city officials asking people to stay off the streets and drive only if absolutely necessary, and what’s the forecast?

It’s a pretty human process, with no cut and dried way to decide, but we eventually come up with something, always erring on the side of safety. We confer with the equally calm-voiced HR director Diane to make sure we're wording things right per university policies.

If we actually close, that means no one goes to work. No one.

No one to plow the sidewalks and parking lots. No one to keep the computers and phone lines working. No one to see that the HVAC keeps the buildings from freezing.

So we don’t CLOSE close. If we decide we should minimize travel to campus, we suspend operations, a decision the chancellor makes after considering our recommendation.

When we suspend operations, we don't hold classes and only “essential” personnel report to campus. When we used that term in our campus communications in the heavy snows earlier this year, people had to ask whether they were essential.

Kind of humbling to find out you aren’t, but you don’t actually want to be essential—not on a snow day. If you’re non-essential you don’t have to venture out into the conditions that officials are defining as too dangerous for travel.

If you’re me, on the other hand, in my essential role….

Actually, I don’t have to venture forth. I count on those essential IT folks to keep the systems working that allow me to put the word out.

Recorded phone message, web site alert page updated and then linked in color-coded text from the home page, emails to campus listservs because quite a few staff check their work email from home, a notice on the portal system that people use to access official records and information, emails to media followed by phone calls, and now Twitter and a note posted on the wall of our Facebook page and sent out to our fans.

(By the way, it’s the same whether or not we suspend operations. If we’re open for business as usual, people need to know that too. )

After I push our announcement out as many ways as possible, I monitor the TV broadcasts and check media web sites to see if they’re using what we sent, and post a comment if I can find someplace to do it that will be visible and informative.

(Sidebar question: Why isn't there one specific place for official representatives to log in and post our info, alphabetically by agency? The school districts have that.)

Because I have the laptop open and I’m connected to my work desktop, I end up dealing with old stuff from my in-box for longer than I realize in my too-early-morning daze.

Eventually I realize I’ve been up for over 3 hours. I’m doing things that are neither urgent nor important, I have a headache because I haven’t had coffee but I shouldn’t at this point, and there’s nothing more to do in this “emergency.”

After that, I go back to bed for a while before I get up, pop open the laptop again, and settle in for a quiet day of work and watching the weather in case we have to do it all over again the next day.