When weather prompts the college to close for safety reasons
By Jordan Kuga
The decision to close the college when weather becomes a safety concern is made on a case-by-case basis.
A three-part process goes into deciding whether Chemeketa opens late or is closed althgether. It starts with Bill Kohlmeyer, the Public Safety Director, who has worked at the college for seven years.
“When the weather looks iffy, I usually get up at about 2 in the morning and start checking websites and forecasts,” Kohlmeyer said. “I’ll call 911 centers to find out what’s going on with the road conditions.”
As a retired police officer with more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in Salem, Kohlmeyer also checks in with patrol officers he knows to see if they have encountered any wrecks or hazardous road conditions.
Additionally, he also checks in with the officer on duty on the Chemeketa campus.
Chemeketa also has a weather station located in Bldg. 39, which Kohlmeyer checks when conditions are unfavorable and might affect school openings.
“Later in the morning, I will contact the bus barns to find out what the different school districts are doing,” Kohlmeyer said, referencing the local K-12 districts. “Typically, we follow the lead of Salem-Keizer schools.”
Then Kohlmeyer drives the roads to determine first-hand what conditions are like that will affect the morning commute for Chemeketa students.
The final step in the process is a telephone call from Kohlmeyer to the college president, Julie Huckestein, who has worked at Chemeketa for the past 13 years.
Kohlmeyer said, “I tell her what I have discovered about the roads and what my opinion is about whether we should delay or whether we should close completely.”
Huckestein said, “We usually have a 5- to 10-minute conversation, weighing the information and making the best-informed decision with the information that is available to us.”
According to Huckestein, the two discuss such information as “what is the outlook on the weather; is it already bad, or is it likely to be bad for a short period of time and then get better? What is the impact of a delay or close? What is the potential risk to students and staff being on the roads? What time of the term is this? Is it finals? Is it between terms?”
Kohlmeyer said, “It’s her decision to make, but I give advice. We try to make the decision as early in the morning as possible.
“The tricky part is where the weather is OK and then it turns worse and people start making last-minute decisions. We have to stay on top of it.”
The bottom line is that it’s always a judgment call.
Kohlmeyer said, “Sometimes it’s an easy decision to make, and sometimes it’s not. We try to take in as much information as we can.”
Once Huckestein reaches a decision, Kohlmeyer begins the process of notifying the appropriate areas.
“Anyone who has signed up for alerts will get a text and/or email notifying them of school closures, delayed openings, or other important messages,” Greg Harris, the college’s marketing director, said.
“Anyone can sign up for these alerts at http://go.chemeketa.edu/alerts. The public safety officer posts the news to Flash Alerts, which is a system notifying news outlets of school closures and delays so our status is mentioned on broadcasts and listed on media websites.”
Harris distributes the information in three different outlets.
“Marketing department staff posts closure or delayed opening messages to the home page of chemeketa.edu,” he said.
The alerts also are posted to the electronic signs on Lancaster and 45th avenue, and through social media: Facebook and Twitter, Harris said.
College officials said it was vital that students keep in mind the difference between a late opening and a delaying of classes.
Kohlmeyer said, “Salem-Keizer will put out a two-hour delay. We don’t put out a two-hour delay. We say we are open at 10 a.m.”
The reason for this is that classes that would normally take place during the period of closure are canceled instead of being delayed.
“A delay means your 8 o’clock class starts at 10. That’s not true here. What we do is if your class started before 10, then it is canceled. That’s where a lot of confusion comes in,” Kohlmeyer said.
Huckestein said, “Be informed. Sign up for Chemeketa alerts: http://go.chemeketa.edu/alerts. The alerts process gives the user choices of how to receive the notices … email, text, etc. If you hear that bad weather is possible, watch the news, look at your phone or email, or go to the college’s website and check on the status of a delay or closure before catching the bus or driving to school.
“We try to get the information out there as early as possible – 5 a.m. or so.”