Western Carolina University prepared for winter weather

With winter almost upon us, the Western Carolinian wanted to refresh readers on the university’s policy on cancelling classes due to weather, what is done behind the scenes to keep campus safe during winter months and provide a few tips on how to be prepared when winter weather strikes.

The newspaper sat down with Interim Provost Dr. Beth Lofquist to discuss the policy of class cancelation due to weather.

Lofquist referred to the policy in the university handbook that states because WCU is home to more than 3,500 students who live on campus, the university does not cancel classes due to disruptive weather. Exceptions are made for extreme conditions, power outages or if weather is particularly hazardous during a time after a long break when it is apparent that most of the student body will be traveling.

“Typically, what you will be told is to be careful,” Lofquist said. “If you can get here, we will have class, but if you cannot get here due to inclement weather, faculty cannot penalize you.”

If a commuting student or professor cannot attend class due to an unsafe route, tools like Blackboard make it almost unnecessary to cancel classes, Lofquist added. If classes are canceled, they must be made-up somehow, and it is up to the professor to decide how that will be done.

According to Lofquist, it would be extremely unlikely for students who live on campus to not be able to make it to class due to weather because of the steps the university takes to prepare for it.

Tammi Hudson, Western Carolina University’s Emergency Manager, said WCU goes above and beyond to prepare for winter.

“Normally we have relatively mild winters in Cullowhee, with one or two significant snow events a year, but the last two winters have been a couple of the worst on record in the last 30 years,” Hudson said. “As a campus community, we’ve worked hard over the last two years to refine our response efforts and communication to the community during severe weather events.”

According to Hudson, areas in the mountains are sometimes a bit unpredictable. Weather in Cashiers or Asheville might not be the same in Cullowhee. It is her team’s top priority to not only monitor weather in the Cullowhee area, but also require a detailed check-up of the main roads leading to campus and the roads to local apartments.

Hudson and her team have already started to monitor the weather constantly on their high-tech machines that give up-to-date weather conditions and weather radar. They also receive regular updates and special weather reports from the National Weather Service.

The campus police department patrols 24 hours a day, and during the winter months they keep a special eye on road conditions at night. If they see ice patches or heavy snow on the road, they report it to Hudson and her team. Once potentially dangerous weather conditions are reported, the campus grounds crew is alerted.

“They are absolutely outstanding,” Hudson said. “They will work day and night to clean and salt the roads.”

Since the coldest part of the day is around 6 a.m., the grounds crewworks mostly at night and early in the morning, before any campus activity starts. Hudson said students, faculty and staff can take comfort in knowing that while they sleep, the grounds crew is working diligently to ensure safety for the morning.

WCU also stays in contact with the Jackson County Department of Transportation to receive detailed reports of road conditions on major roads leading to campus and smaller roads to apartments.

Police, EMS, dining services, residential living, grounds crew and even entertainment services are considered essential campus services. Essential services will never close, even if classes are cancelled and roads leading the campus are not safe to drive. WCU will house critical staff members on campus to guarantee that their services will be available to students at all times.

If the threat of severe winter weather hits, Hudson and her team recommend taking advantage of the wide selection of technology provided by WCU to find out information on schedule changes and road conditions.

Hudson’s personal favorite is CatTracker, an alert system that goes straight from WCU’s Emergency Management Team to cell phones. All it takes is a few seconds to sign up on the university website, and wherever you are, your cell phone will notify you of any emergencies or updates.

Other resources are MyCat emails, WCU’s Facebook or Twitter pages and the WCU website – which will have an advisory announcement on the homepage that can be clicked for more details.

A few ways to be prepared during winter weather events are to always have your cell phone charged, a full tank of gas, the WCU Police Department’s phone number, plenty of bottled water, non-perishable food, a flashlight and an emergency kit in your vehicle. Also, remember that the essential services on campus will always be available.

The more prepared you are for unfavorable conditions, the less you have to worry about when they happen. Keep up with the announcements Hudson and her team sends, monitor road conditions and have a few preparations at your home or dorm.

The weather outside might seem frightful, but because of the steps WCU takes to prepare for it, it could actually be quite delightful.