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The ability to keep campus sidewalks and roadways clear is among the factors that is considered in making the decision whether to cancel or delay classes. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Snow day? Many factors go into the decision

By SUE WUETCHER

Published December 13, 2017

“Safety really is the driver here.”
Jay Roorbach, senior emergency planning coordinator

Anyone with kids has faced that inevitable question this time of year: Do we have a snow day today?

Now, imagine that question when you’re dealing with 30,000 kids — and 7,000 faculty and staff.

Welcome to Jay Roorbach’s world.

As UB’s senior emergency planning coordinator, Roorbach chairs UB’s Emergency Planning Oversight Committee, members of which have the difficult job of making a recommendation to UB’s president whether to cancel or delay classes, or issue an early departure due to adverse weather conditions.

UB’s main priority is to remain open and continue business as usual — with snow removal teams working around the clock to clear and salt campus roadways, parking lots and sidewalks. Cancelling classes, exams and activities is very disruptive to the university’s academic calendar.

But when the snow and ice threaten to impact university operations, it falls to members of the Emergency Planning Oversight Committee to gather information so that UB’s president can make an informed decision.

Committee members include representatives from UB departments responsible for student life and safety, academic scheduling, emergency management, communications, athletics, human resources, facilities operations and campus infrastructure. They usually meet via conference call — frequently as early as 5 a.m. and sometimes several times a day, if conditions warrant.

Their job, Roorbach says, is to “assess the situation” and “make as an informed a recommendation as we can.”

The broad makeup of the group, he notes, ensures “we have a lot of different partners with eyes, ears and wheels on the ground.”

In making its recommendation, the committee considers information issued by the Buffalo Office of the National Weather Service regarding current weather conditions and forecasts throughout the region; real-time weather updates from the Erie County Department of Emergency Services; road conditions both on and off campus; scheduled classes, events and other activities on campus; and other circumstances that may affect a particular region or the North, South or Downtown campuses.

The committee also takes into account local travel bans or restrictions, the ability to provide transportation within and among UB’s three campuses, and the ability to keep campus facilities, roadways and parking lots open.

But the primary consideration is the safety of the campus community.

“Safety really is the driver here,” Roorbach says. “We are charged with maintaining campus safety; that’s the main consideration when making our recommendations.”

He stresses the committee’s decision-making process “is not hasty at all; there’s a lot of due diligence and work that goes into it.”

Once a recommendation is made, it goes to the president through Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration. The committee aims to issue its recommendation before 5:30 a.m. for daytime classes or events, at least 90 minutes before a change in scheduled operations at other times of the day, or immediately, if conditions are severe.

If a decision is made to change scheduled operations, UB will notify the campus in a timely manner via UB Alert, the university’s official crisis communication vehicle, as well as via traditional media, the 645-NEWS hotline, and the university’s social media sites. The UB Alert system sends emergency messages to everyone who has a UB “.edu” email address, as well as text messages to cellphones and email messages to alternate email addresses.

Information for students, faculty members and employees during severe weather can be found by visiting the emergency management website.