From Jan. 10 to Jan. 16, Spokane received 16.9 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). It’s likely this does not include the snowfall from the evenings of Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, according to NWS Spokane. 

Gonzaga University cancelled afternoon classes at the School of Law and sent all faculty and staff home on Jan. 10, sending out a priority email, posting to social media and providing updates through the university’s website on the emergency information page.

Cassandra Stelter, GU’s emergency preparedness manager, said the university began monitoring the weather on Jan. 6.

“Our procedures for monitoring the weather actually start before the weather ever comes to Spokane,” Stelter said.

The Emergency Management Team (EMT) is made up of people from across the university.

“[They] have subject matter expertise in all of the areas that would be affected by an emergency or severe weather,” Stelter said. 

Athletics, academics, student affairs and administration all have representation on the EMT.

“We talk about the potential impacts of the weather; we judge the severity, we evaluate potential impacts to work flow to keep the campus safe,”  Stelter said.

Based on data collected by EMT, information is then delivered to the leadership of the campus, including the president, provost, vice president of administration and, sometimes, additional members of the leadership team.

“They make a decision driven by life safety, balancing academics, by balancing the needs of students and needs of the employees,” Stelter said. 

The procedures for monitoring extreme weather involve several sources.

“When we see potentially severe winter weather in the forecast, we start attending additional briefings from the weather service; we reach out to other area schools and universities; we talk to the emergency management personnel who work at the city and the county,” Stelter said.

As for removing snow on GU’s campus, the grounds crew applies a culture of preparedness, which Stelter said is her job to drive and maintain.

Ken Sammons, director of plant services, said removal is dependent on the amount of snow.

“On days when the snowfall is 2 inches or less, [the grounds crew] comes in at normal time,” Sammons said. “If it is more than 2 inches, the grounds supervisor leaves a message on the grounds crew snow line and they start earlier.”

He said the goal is to have the main sidewalks and parking lots open by 8 a.m.

“The grounds crew applies liquid de-icer on the walkways and streets ahead of the snow fall, when possible,” Sammons said. “This doesn’t melt the snow as much as it keeps the snow from compacting and turning into ice.” 

It is difficult to get the compact snow and ice off the walkways once it hardens, Sammons said. The proactive effort helps in the snow removal process. 

Sammons said the custodial crew also assists with snow removal, shovels the doorways and spreads granular de-icer. 

It is also part of their work to ensure the landings and interior stairs are free of slush and water when possible.

Sammons said Plant Services works together with the Gonzaga University Event Service Team (GUEST), Campus Security & Public Safety and Athletics, so they are aware of on-campus events. Depending on the snow level, they coordinate with Emergency Management as well.

Stelter said because GU is a Jesuit institution, her department spends a lot of time “focusing on how we can make this about Cura Personalis and wholistic integration, care for the whole person rather than just being reactionary, just about response or just about cancellation. We try and encompass the whole picture.”

Karlie Murphy is the opinion editor.

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