How does Western decide whether to close or delay opening because of weather?
The university must balance the effects of weather with the importance of being open in order to fulfill its mission and responsibilities as an educational institution. On a case-by-case basis, the administration evaluates the effects of weather and decides whether to remain open or closed or to delay opening. Each of these decisions is based on an assessment of safety, transportation and other factors.
How does that decision-making process work?
As soon as a weather event develops, Western officials monitor several weather forecasting services, mindful that weather that affects our entire WWU community varies greatly across the commuting area.
As wintry weather approaches, all Western staff involved try to stay abreast of the many weather forecasts for Bellingham and the surrounding area. Western staff use their best judgment and experience to project what conditions will be like on Western’s campus.
The day before a storm is projected to arrive, Western’s Outdoor Maintenance supervisor makes a decision on whether to pre-apply ice melt on campus roads, parking lots and walkways. That supervisor also decides whether to schedule crews to arrive on campus early the next day.
On the day of bad weather, the Outdoor Maintenance supervisor and Facilities Management director arrive on campus around 5 a.m. to assess conditions and evaluate the latest weather forecasts. A decision is made on whether to call in the snow removal crews early. Based on current ice and snow conditions as well as the weather forecasts, the FM director recommends to the vice president of Business and Financial Affairs a course of action – whether to remain open, to close or to have a delayed opening. The vice president of Business and Financial Affairs makes a recommendation to the university president, who then makes a final decision. The director of the Office of Communications and Marketing is informed of that decision, and the campus then is notified via Stormline recording, text messages, emails and web postings, as well as notification via area radio stations and other media.
Throughout the day, conditions are monitored in case there is a need to change the status of the university.
What factors are involved in the decision?
Safety is the top priority. Is the campus reasonably safe for students and staff to navigate? Can the Facilities Management crews reasonably expect to keep up with the conditions expected (i.e. snow, ice, freezing conditions)? Is there enough time to clear sidewalks and parking areas before everyone gets to campus?
It is important to note that about 4,000 Western students live in residence halls, and they have a short walk to classes. A majority of s tudents who live off campus and many faculty and staff live on or near WTA bus routes, and the university always monitors whether WTA is running when making a decision.
For commuters, weather conditions in Whatcom and Skagit counties may be worse or better than in Bellingham. Western stresses that individuals must make their own decisions on whether to travel to Western during bad weather based on a specific assessment of their own safety and circumstances.
Why does Western remain open when K-12 schools or community colleges close?
Western has a different set of issues than K-12, in which school districts are responsible for safely transporting young children on school buses. Western students, faculty and staff are adults and able to make individual decisions on their own safety when deciding whether or not to travel to campus on days of bad weather.
Community colleges often do not have large residential populations as does Western. About 4,000 Western students live in residence halls, and they have a short walk to classes. A majority of students who live off campus and many faculty and staff live on or near WTA bus routes, and the university always monitors whether WTA is running when making a decision.