IUPUI 'operates at all times' when winter weather hits

Student walks in heavy snow.View print quality image
Sometimes you need an umbrella on a very snowy IUPUI campus, as this student did on March 24, 2018. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

This month is the five-year anniversary of the worst winter storm Carlos Garcia and Ryan Chandler of IUPUI's Emergency Management and Continuity office had to experience.

Jan. 5 and 6, 2014, temperatures plummeted to 14 degrees below zero while ice and snow accumulated to almost a foot. Spring semester classes were not yet in session, but the university was closed for those two days. Only critical personnel were allowed on campus.

"The city was shut down," said Ryan Chandler, assistant director of emergency management and continuity. "It got so cold so fast that they couldn't move the snow. Everything turned to blocks of ice. Down New York Street, we saw these blocks of snow, and the plows were having a difficult time removing everything. It was deadly cold those first couple of days."

IUPUI endured its first major snow of 2019 last weekend. Compared to 2014, the 6 inches of snow was a dusting, but no storm is ever underestimated. Storms are analyzed using Weather Sentry days before they hit. Emergency Management and Continuity Director Carlos Garcia, Chandler, and their team compile updates, which are then quickly given to university officials to formulate a plan.

Each storm is unique, and each has the potential to be hazardous, especially for commuting students. Reports from the National Weather Service, Marion and surrounding counties, and regional schools -- from Indianapolis Public Schools to Ivy Tech, IU Bloomington to Butler University -- are all considered before the findings are presented to Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar, who has the ultimate call to cancel classes. 

It's extremely rare to encounter weather that would fully close the university, Garcia said. Research must go on, no matter what your preferred TV meteorologist has to say. IUPUI's unique proximity to major hospitals demands facilities to stay open in a blizzard. Each winter storm requires lengthy reports.

Garcia explained: "We're going to take the best data available -- the conditions on the ground, the information we're getting from our police officers, Environmental Health and Safety, Campus Facility Services -- and put it all together."

Be vigilant on your device 

Awareness is your first -- and most important -- key to winter weather preparedness. Keeping weather apps on your phone is crucial. Be sure to follow @IUEMC on Twitter and IU Emergency Management and Continuity on Facebook as well. 

Keep your IUPUI contact information up-to-date 

Emergency Management and Continuity sends severe weather alerts via text, email and phone call, but if you have an old phone number in your IUPUI information, you will not get the alerts. Make sure everything is correct on IU Notify

Dress appropriately

In Garcia's years at IUPUI, he has seen students walking to classes in shorts and T-shirts during frigid temperatures. He does not recommend this, even if the students drove to class and got primo parking. 

"You never know what's going to happen," Garcia said. "If an individual's vehicle stalls or they run off the road and they're in shorts and a T-shirt, that's not very effective." 

Travel watch vs. travel warning 

If a travel watch is issued, it's for essential travel -- work, class, groceries. A travel warning means that only emergency vehicles are allowed on the roads. You could get a ticket if caught out during a warning. The latest travel conditions in Indiana are posted online.

Advisories are issued per county. This means Marion County might not have an advisory but nearby Hamilton County could, Garcia said. 

Parking

Lots are usually cleaned during the wee hours of the morning. Motorists should avoid parking near snow piles and should make sure to keep their vehicles out of driving lanes in the lots.

Back to '14

The January 2014 storm was one for the record books. Chandler said that if classes had been in session, the university still would have closed. However, closures and cancellations at IUPUI are extremely rare, and we must encounter the perfect storm for that to occur.

"The idea that campus will close is not something we entertain," Garcia said. "It is IU's policy to operate at all times."