University prepares emergency operations for snowfall

Nearly one year after Connecticut saw its snowiest month since 1945, administrators have made several changes to the University’s emergency operations to prepare for the season ahead.

The University Emergency Operations Team, which includes University Secretary Linda Lorimer and Deputy Secretary for the University Martha Highsmith, implemented these changes to ensure earlier notification of anticipated snowstorms and improve communication about service cancellations and facility closures. The changes come in response to last year, when administrators said they sent community-wide notifications about closures and emergency plans too late.

“Since we are a 24/7 enterprise with students living here as well as patient care and delicate research, we don’t ‘shut down’ the way a company might or cancel classes the way a high school can,” Highsmith said in a Monday email to the News. “We are all hoping for a mild winter, even as we are preparing for major snow!”

In addition to the improvements in communication, Highsmith said she and Lorimer have consulted extensively with Yale College Dean Mary Miller and determined that faculty who are unable to travel to campus will continue to decide whether and how to cancel or postpone their classes. The University followed the same policy last winter, on the basis of past years, but Lorimer said in January she would discuss with Miller and Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard whether it is the best approach for a major storm.

The new communications and cancellation decisions were prompted by the 19 inches of snow on Jan. 12 that canceled Yale Shuttle operations for much of the day and sparked the possibility of library closures.

That day, information about closures and transportation changes did not appear on the front page of Yale’s website until 11:15 a.m., and administrators did not send a University-wide email with the information until 11:40 a.m. The campus-wide announcement was delayed because the Emergency Operations Team could not send the email until representatives from campus departments provided personnel and logistical updates.

“During the winter last year, we worked to get notices out to staff in a timely fashion in order to limit dangerous travel while also ensuring that essential functions were covered,” Highsmith said.

Record early snowfall hit Connecticut Oct. 29-30, with over 20 inches of snow in the northeastern part of the state, prompting major power failures around the state but not affecting any University operations. That storm’s lessened impact on campus was in part due to the University’s improved preparations, Highsmith said.

Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner, who oversees the University’s police and security operations, said a key part of the University’s planning involves “after-action reviews,” which seek to address any issues a disruption like extreme weather causes.

“Each extreme weather experience brings with it lessons learned — that’s a natural part of policing, and it’s also a natural part of managing operations in a large, complex place like Yale,” she said in a email last Thursday.

Yale Police Department Assistant Chief Michael Patten said although last winter was an “anomaly in terms of the amount of snow received and the tempo of storms,” police services were not impacted by last year’s snowfall.

Lindner said both the YPD and Yale Security are “geared up” to take on any weather conditions. Extensive preparations are taken before each major storm to ensure adequate deployments, she said, adding that the YPD and Yale Security work closely with the University’s Emergency Operations Team during severe weather conditions.

“We have operational plans in place to manage winter weather emergencies and have a number of four-wheel drive vehicles available to police officers to ensure uninterrupted response,” Patten added.

Lorimer did not respond to requests for comment throughout the past week.

Last January was the snowiest month on record in Connecticut, with roughly 60 inches of snow.

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