In the news: our recent snowstorm and the use of GB Alert

Student journalist Michael Duenkel did a nice job for the Fourth Estatee in offering a comprehensive overview of the safety factors that figure into cancelling classes. He also looks at the ways the University communicates this news, including (and here’s another plug for an important service) the GB Alert text-messaging system.

Public Safety keeps UWGB on alert

Closed for winter

Jessica Schmidt/Fourth Estate

Michael Duenkel, News Writer
February 13, 2013

When it comes to making the decision to cancel classes, Police Lieutenant Jeffrey Gross said safety is the foremost concern.

The cancellation of evening classes on Jan. 30, was the first time UW-Green Bay’s emergency notification system was used due to inclement weather this year. The emergency alert system, which has been in place since 2008, was used to send an alert shortly before 3 p.m. notifying subscribers of the cancellation of classes for that evening.

Prior to 2008, Gross said alerts were communicated primarily via email and TV news outlets.

When signing up for UWGB’s emergency notification system, subscribers select what type of alerts they will receive in a message. Gross said a separate box must be checked for snow emergencies.

“Text alerts are a way to keep people informed if they’re not by their computer or aren’t logged in to their email,” Gross said.

Chris Sampson, director of university communication, said his office relays word immediately once top administrators make the decision to postpone or cancel classes.

Sampson said Jan. 30, the university had an alert up on the UWGB home page and a Twitter message out within minutes. They also sent out GB Alert text messages as well, followed by an campus-wide email to students and employees. Sampson said in very urgent situations, the university also has the option of a pop-up message on every network computer in use on campus.

“You’re never going to be able to guarantee hitting 100 percent of your audience, but with all these different channels, we come as close as we can,” Sampson said. “I also know that once we put that first message out, word travels fast.”

Gross said a number of factors are considered before making the decision to cancel classes.

“The chancellor’s leadership cabinet makes the final decision,” Gross said. “Public Safety gives input to the leadership council through the vice chancellor for business and finance, which is who the public safety office reports to.”

Gross said Public Safety monitors the situation in a number of ways. From checking with Green Bay Metro to see if the buses are running, determining campus roadway conditions by consulting with the grounds department, listening to Brown County police radios to determine the accident rate throughout Brown County and monitoring the roadway systems through the Department of Transportation, the department is always on alert.

Public Safety also checks with area school districts such as Green Bay and Appleton, as well as other area colleges like St. Norbert College and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

UWGB’s parking lots were an issue in the recent cancellation of classes.

“The high wind conditions were creating drifts that people couldn’t drive through and our concern was that temperatures were dropping, icing was increasing, winds were still predicted to continue and more snow was coming,” Gross said. “We were concerned if people got to campus, they would have a hard time pulling into a parking lot. And then if they got into the lot, they might not get out.”

Matthew Honzik, junior accounting major, commutes to UWGB.

“Last Wednesday, I actually saw three or four accidents in the school vicinity,” Hoznik said.

Honzik, who transferred to UWGB this semester, said he signed up for the emergency notification system the week of the snowstorm and found out about the cancelled classes by text message.

Honzik believes standards are necessary in making the decision to cancel classes, but he also said students should use discretion.

Freshman Lucy Vang, who lives on campus, also uses UWGB’s emergency notification system and found out about classes being canceled via email.

Vang said poor road conditions don’t affect her too much as a UWGB resident, however she understands the issue for commuters.

“If I lived off campus and there was bad weather, I don’t think I’d risk it,” Vang said. “I’d rather miss a class than get into an accident.”

Gross said Public Safety is asked for input on conditions of roadways, sidewalks and parking lots. He said campus activity is also taken into consideration and that the evening of Jan. 30 had a lot of night classes scheduled.

In regards to the parking lot conditions on Jan. 30, Gross said “campus leadership felt it was a significant enough concern that it wasn’t worth taking the risk. They’ll err on the side of safety.”

Aside from the decision-making process in place to determine whether to cancel classes, Gross added that “people need to judge on their own too.”

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