Ep. 02 Winter Weather at Appalachian State

Appalachian State University Emergency Planner and host, Debi Trivette welcomes Appalachian's Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management and Emergency Manager, Jason Marshburn for a discussion about how adverse weather conditions affect campus operations.


Debi Trivette: Hi, thank you so much for joining us today for our second episode about emergency management at Appalachian State. I'm Debi Trivette, the Emergency Planner for Appalachian State and today we have a special guest with us, Jason Marshburn, who is not only the director of Environmental Health, Safety, and Emergency Management but he is also the Emergency Manager for Appalachian State.

Jason, can you talk to us a little bit about the typical winter weather in the Boone area and what we see here?

Jason Marshburn: Certainly, first thank you for having me. I am happy to be here and talk about winter weather which is always a hot topic, I think, of discussion around campus. So, typically winter in Boone I think one thing to keep in mind is that conditions vary throughout the area and the mountains so what it's like in Boone may be a little different than what the western part of the county sees. So, when we look at weather in Boone, we are typically looking at around twenty-four to forth-eight inches of snow a year. Obviously, sometimes we will see a little more or a little less, but it is typically snow, which is a good thing. We don't usually see a lot of ice storms, mostly snow. It can be kind of windy though. I think the wind is one thing you will notice that is different from the summer. The wind will pick up a little bit. Our average highs are typically in the forties and lows are typically in the twenties. Obviously, can be a little cooler than that depending on the exact weather conditions and wind chill is always a factor in the weather that we think about. So, they can make it feel a little colder than twenty or make it feel a little colder than the twenties at night. So that is something else we think about.

DT: Okay, how does the campus prepare for winter weather, what do we do here?

JM: Great question. So, we always talk about plans. We have lots of plans on campus and we really look at an all-hazards approach with our plans. So, we have emergency plans for the university and then we have departmental plans that help us as departments respond to different types of events; one of those being winter weather. Our campus emergency plan certainly talks about winter weather and certainly has pieces in there that talk about communication across campus and how we manage our resources and how we are going to react to these different types of winter weather events that we could see. Then there are our departmental plans as well like I mentioned. Physical Plant probably being one of the biggest departments on campus that reacts to winter weather and they have a lot of targeted plans on how they are going to address campus conditions should we see snow fall. Forty-eight inches of snow a year can take a toll on things, so they are also looking at how they are going to react, and do they have the right equipment to do that. So, part of the other piece of that planning side is making sure that we have the right equipment and tools and so forth to respond to those scenarios. So that is another big piece that we are looking at. I think another important thing to point out is we have a lot of folks on campus that are responsible for different pieces of responding to emergencies, both winter weather and other types of things. One of the main coordinating bodys is the Emergency Management Task Force on campus and it is comprised of different departments that have a role to play in emergency response or they have got a resource that they can bring to the table. So, Physical Plant again being one of those, but we've got the Police Department and University Communications, Housing, and Academic Affairs and many other areas that are a part of that team that start several months before we get into winter preparing for winter weather. Looking at plans making sure they have got the right equipment and tools to respond to those events. There is a lot of different moving pieces, a lot of different players that are involved as we look at winter weather and how we are preparing for that.

DT: I guess Auxiliary Services and Food Services have a big role in stuff like that.

JM: Certainly, you know that's a very important part. We look at our student population and our faculty and staff and what could happen during the winter, we want to make sure that not only are we able to clear campus but that we can provide services, food being one of those, for those that may be on campus that live here as a residential student or those that may be here on campus when something happens and may not be able to travel.

DT: Okay, can you talk to us a little bit about how decisions are made about classes and work schedules in the event of adverse weather?

JM: That's always a fun topic to discuss and there is a lot of different roles and pieces that come into play with that decision. I always like to point out that when we start looking at these decisions, we start early, as soon as we recognize there is a potential for weather, we start looking at what are those impacts and what changes we may need to make to university operations whether it be class schedules or work schedules or both. So, we start several days in advance or as soon as we recognize that there is going to be some level of impact. And the other thing I like to point out is we try to look at how these decisions are made is that one of the pieces in that is looking at the forecast. It is always good to remember that the forecast is a forecast; it is a prediction. Sometimes those predictions turn out as forecast and sometimes they don't. So, that's a challenge right off the bat when we are starting to look at these decisions. We are trying to take the best information we have available and discuss that and make the best decision we can. Like I mentioned earlier, there a lot of factors, a lot of things that come into play as we look at making decisions about class changes and work schedule changes. I will say that safety is always the number one priority with that. As we are looking at these decisions, we start several days out. We are looking at the forecast information, we are looking at campus preparations. All these different things come into play as we start determining when and if we are going to cancel or alter that schedule. As we get a little closer into the event, we certainly start deciding when can we make that decision with the goal being, we want to make the decision early enough for people to make appropriate plans or make appropriate travel decisions. We certainly want to avoid people driving when they don't have to drive if conditions are going to be unsafe. Again, being a forecast, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't depending on how that forecast unfolds. Sometimes the snow, as some have experienced, starts a little earlier than forecast or conditions may deteriorate a little sooner than forecast. But that is what we want to try and avoid to the best of our ability. So, we've got a team in place that will come together for these adverse weather decisions and that team is represented by a couple of key players across campus. So, we've got senior leadership representation on that team. We've got Academic Affairs representation on that team, we've got Human Resources who will take part in those discussions. University Communications, Campus Police, and then our office, Environmental Health, Safety, and Emergency Management. All these players come together and discuss the different pieces of information that are available at the time. So, we are looking at forecast information, we are collecting information from different groups like Physical Plant and AppalCart, we're reviewing local conditions, local road conditions. All that information is taken in by the team, it is discussed, and that team comes up with a recommendation that is then passed along to the Chancellor for her final input and decision into class cancellation and changes and so forth. The timing of that, like I mentioned, can be a little tricky. We want to do it as early as we can. Sometimes, it means we have to make the decision early in the morning versus the day before and again we are looking at the forecast and we want to make sure that we are being safe, but we also want to have class if we can have class. So, sometimes we do have to make that decision in the morning. When we make that decision in the morning on the day of class, we start that process as early as 4:30 in the morning with a goal of having a decision posted by 5:30 am; again, to give people time to make appropriate travel plans and decisions.

DT: Gosh, that's early in the morning!

JM: It is, I drink lots of coffee on those days!

DT: Is there anything else you would like to share? Want to talk about floods and stuff like that we have on campus?

JM: We have all kinds of weather things that we always want to prepare for. Flooding being one and we look at severe weather and just winds in general. When we look at these things, we certainly encourage everyone to have a plan. The campus has plans, we have departmental plans, but we want to make sure that everyone has a plan and that they don't just focus on one emergency type. Our plans on campus take the all-hazards approach which we look at all types of hazards from weather events to active shooter events to hazardous materials to everything. We want people and encourage people to think about that all hazards approach and start developing their own personal preparedness plans. The key things we typically talk about-we make sure as part of that plan you have a way to receive notifications, have multiple ways to receive notifications, we want to make sure you have registered for AppState Alert, which is probably one of the easiest and fastest ways to get emergency information on campus is through the text alerts but it won't work unless you register for it. So, we want to make sure people are registered for AppState Alert and are thinking about multiple ways you are going to get emergency information whether that be weather watches or weather warnings or some other emergency information. Having reliable sources to get that information from. With the age of social media, it's easy to get information but sometimes that information isn't the most accurate. So, we want to make sure you have good accurate sources to get that information from. Again, we talk about the planning piece but thinking through what are the things you need, how are you going to make it through an emergency? If it is a winter storm and your power goes out, how are you going to get access to heat, how are you going to get food and things like that? And then, of course, having a kit. That kind of goes along with making a plan; having a kit and thinking about the things you need for a prolonged emergency. Whether that be medication or in the winter a heating source if your power goes out, make sure you've got a good emergency kit. And I will share that all this information can be found online at our website. You can go to emergency.appstate.edu and find all kinds of preparedness information to start developing your kit, making a plan, and getting notifications and things like that.

DT: What's the difference in a watch and a warning?

JM: Excellent question. This is probably one of the more commonly confused things and understandably so but a watch, any type of weather watch, tornado watch, winter storm watch, flood watch just means that conditions are favorable for whatever that event is. So, that's a good time to take note, to prepare, make sure you've got a way to receive information and things like that. When a warning is issued, that means you need to take some type of action. So, Tornado Warning, a tornado is immanent or could be immanent and you need to take immediate shelter. Winter Storm Warning means a winter storm conditions are immanent; your preparedness actions should be completed by that point. So, warning means something is happening or could be happening within the immediate future and we need to take some type of action.

DT: So, if I see flash flood warning, do I get ready and go to Duck Pond or what?

JM: Probably not the best place to go, while it is tempting, we want to make sure we get away from water. So, that's a good one. Anytime we see a flash flood warning, that's a good time to get away from the water and move to higher ground or if you are in a flood prone area, move away from that area that has flooding potential.

DT: Thank you.

JM: You are welcome.

DT: Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?

JM: I think those were excellent questions and I think the biggest thing is just making sure we are all thinking preparedness and we've got our plans in place and are visiting our resources we have at the university to help you do that.

DT: Thank you very much for being with us and talking to us today Jason and thank you all very much for joining in for our second episode and please join us again next month as we have another episode about Emergency Management at Appalachian State. For more information, please go to our website https://emergency.appstate.edu and if you have questions, you may email them to safety@appstate.edu. Thank you very much.