How Mason determines snow days

This story was originally published on February 14th, 2014.

Behind the anticipated Mason Alert giving you the okay to sleep through class is a calculated procedure. It involves many different faculty members who assess a variety of circumstances in order the make the best decision with the available information.

When inclement weather strikes or is in the forecast, Mason undergoes a complex process to decide when and if the university closes or has a delayed opening. According to the university’s inclement weather/emergency closure policy, “Decisions to alter university operations and/or the university’s academic or operating schedule are made by the Provost and/or the Senior Vice President or the Chief of Staff in the absence of one or both, upon the recommendation of a subcommittee of the Emergency Operations Group.”

The university tries to alert students of closings or schedule alterations by 5 a.m. These decisions are announced via Mason Alert, the university webpage, university information and the university social media accounts.

“Decisions about our operating schedule are made as far in advance as possible based on the reliability of weather forecasts, university events and the academic schedule,” said Jennifer Davis, senior vice president for Administration and Finance. Mason considers many factors when deciding whether to alter university operations, including current and future road conditions surrounding the campuses, closings and/or delays of public transportation, status of region and university utilities (including water, power and sewage) and conditions of roads and walkways on campus.

According to university policy, in the event of a modified operating schedule, classes, work and campus events will follow the modified schedule as the situation is monitored. When there is a full closure, all activities are cancelled. The decisions as to what facilities on campus remain open, including dining and recreation, are made depending on the severity of the weather. In addition, transportation and parking services play a large role in the decision making process.

“Parking and transportation is part of a decision making group that includes Facilities Management, Environmental Health & Safety, Police, University Communications, Provost, Regional Campuses, Housing and the Senior VP,” said Josh Cantor, director of Parking and Transportation.

When inclement weather is in the prospective future, Cantor and the rest of the team are often on the phone at 4:30 a.m. debating which course of action to take. “If we have weather that arrives during the day, we’ll call or meet as needed to make decisions on Mason’s operating status. It’s really a group decision with the ultimate decision resting with the Provost and Senior VP” Canto said.

To prepare for a storm, the parking department will often close the roofs of the parking decks, especially when snow and/or ice is expected. Frequently, the reserved spaces are open up to students with non-reserved permits so that as many students as possible can park in the decks and not the parking lots.

“The more cars we can get to get out of the lots makes it easier to plow.” Cantor said.

Regarding the Mason shuttle system, the shuttles are to keep running one hour past closing time if the university closes early. If Mason opens late, shuttle service will start one hour before opening time.

“The drivers always have the final decision if they feel conditions are not safe to drive in since they are responsible for passengers’ safety,” Cantor said.

All university campuses follow the same closure schedule in order to maintain consistency, unless localized conditions force campuses to alter their individual schedules. In the event of cancelled classes, missed days will be made up during the reading days scheduled for right before final exams.