By XUEYING CHEN ’16
The Emergency Management Team at the College has convened several times this school year because Wellesley and its surrounding areas have received an unusually large amount of snowfall this winter. The College closed once this school year in early January, when most faculty and students were away, but remained open for all other days of inclement weather.
Ben Hammond, vice president for finance and administration; Debra DeMeis, dean of students; Pete Zuraw, assistant vice president for facilities management and planning; Carolyn Slaboden, assistant vice president for human resources; Lisa Barbin, chief of police and Charna Westervelt, director of internal communications, sit on the Emergency Management Team when the weather forecast predicts severe, inclement conditions.
During days of heavy snowfall, the team must decide early in the morning if the College will stay open, close, begin later or close early. The six members of the team review data from the weather forecast and the ground conditions at the time in Wellesley and areas nearby to come to a decision. They also take into consideration the actions of other schools and colleges in the Boston area.
In the Boston area, Boston Public Schools, Northeastern University, Boston College and Boston University closed for the snowstorm on Feb. 4, though Wellesley did not.
The Emergency Management Team must also announce their decision by 6 a.m. to give faculty and staff enough notice before they head to work. Westerfelt sends the announcement through email, the MyWellesley portal, the Wellesley homepage and Twitter and Facebook when the College remains open for the day. When the College closes, the team also alerts local television stations and sends texts and phone messages to the community.
“Our feeling has been, if the decision is to remain open, students, faculty and staff are not going to appreciate receiving texts and phone messages early in the morning, only to let them know that it’s business as usual,” Westervelt said.
Even though the team uses multiple communication channels, students tend to rely only on email to receive urgent news.
“I think the information should be more accessible because MIT actually has a website for extreme weather, and Wellesley does not, and so you have to look at Community and wait for someone to post it,” Shyaan Hasnain ’14 said. “I think there needs to be a section on the Wellesley site that is for extreme weather.”
Earlier this semester, members of Senate voiced a concern about how offices such as the Center for Work and Service or Health Service closed on days of heavy snow when the College stayed open.
When the College remains open during a snowstorm, individual faculty members may choose to cancel classes if they live too far away or if public transportation has closed. College employees need to consult their managers in order to come in later or leave early, or they can use personal vacation time.
“It strikes me that snow policy procedures create far more hardships and challenges for non-faculty,” Joe Swingle, sociology professor, said. “Faculty can cancel and reschedule classes without seeking permission from someone higher up the food chain. Most non-faculty employees don’t have the luxury of re-scheduling their working hours when the need arises.”
Professor Sarah Wall-Randell in the English department believes that the Emergency Management Team makes very reasonable decisions on inclement weather, even if they tend to decide conservatively. She appreciates how faculty have the choice of holding or not holding class.
“With all that said, I think the College should have been closed on that Wednesday storm we had in February,” Wall-Randell said. “I struggled in to teach a class I have that only meets on Wednesdays, and it was not really safe. But I don’t really fault the College for going the wrong way on one individual call.”
Because Wellesley is a residential college, the Emergency Management team will decide to close only if conditions are too dangerous for faculty and staff to commute in or for members of the College community to travel within the campus.
The College administrative handbook states in its safety section, “Wellesley must continue to support its students regardless of inclement weather. The College, therefore, generally does not close.”
Schweta Patwardhan ’16, senator from Dower House, noticed students have struggled when walking to class through heavy snow while Facilities Management tries to clear the all paths on campus. DeMeis stated that the Emergency Management team would incorporate in their decision process whether the grounds crew can keep up with the heavy snows throughout the day.
“It should be easy and safe for students to get to class, and that hasn’t always been the case in the past,” Patwardhan said.
Dining hall staff and maintenance employees who provide essential services to the Wellesley community must come in for work when the school closes. These employees work overtime when the College closes for a snow day, which means they receive time and a half for the hours on job.
Accuweather.com released the total amounts of snowfall for the winter of 2013 to 2014 in several U.S. cities last month. As of two weeks ago, Boston received 58.6 inches of snow, 144 percent of the average amount of 40.6 inches of snow. Other cities have experienced much larger deviations from their average amounts of snowfall. Philadelphia received 67.5 inches of snow, 314 percent of the normal amount of 21.5 inches, and New York City received 57.4 inches, 239 percent of the standard 24 inches.
Despite the harsh winter, the weather has warmed up over the past few weeks, and according to Accuweather.com, will fluctuate between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the rest of April.