In a Nov. 5 Collegian column on titled “We should cancel class if our safety is at stake” the decision to cancel or not to cancel classes because of inclement weather was questioned. The author of the piece wrote as if she believes such decisions are made on a lark. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d like to share with you the real story behind Superstorm Sandy (and other storms). Sandy presented Penn State with a multitude of issues that had to be addressed. First and foremost among these issues was the safety of our students, faculty and staff — which is why the path of this storm was monitored carefully for six days before it even made landfall. The Office of Emergency Management at Penn State, along with university leaders, kept a careful eye on Sandy’s movements for nearly a week —as we do for every storm of this size. In fact, right now emergency management staff are again tracking a storm expected to bring snow to some parts of the region by mid-week.
Decisions to close or open the university because of Sandy were made after long, detailed briefings on the weather situation in consultation with experts. Our partners in the National Weather Service, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration routinely provide us with real-time data and detailed updates. In the case of Sandy, we received comprehensive daily briefings along with updates throughout the day. Emergency management staff, along with our Centre Region partners, kept constant watch on the storm — even staying overnight in the Emergency Operations Center in order to track information about the storm. The determination on whether to ‘close’ any campus is always done with safety in mind — along with extensive information culled from those on the front lines who have been forecasting weather for decades.
The cancelation of classes on Monday afternoon resulted from a shift in Sandy’s path — which brought strong gusts of wind to university Park that evening. Based on data from all sources, it was predicted the winds would not last. By Tuesday, the 50+mph winds anticipated for parts of the state were never seen at University Park or State College. In fact, the danger zone of the storm never passed over University Park. The campuses to the east of State College, however, faced far more severe conditions and adversity. As a result, with safety in mind, they closed their doors until safe conditions could be guaranteed.
As someone who has spent many long evenings and early morning hours tracking a storm or staying connected with other emergency officials across the state and nation, I can tell you that weather-related decisions are not made spontaneously and actually involve many hours, sometimes days, of unseen work and preparation.
The safety of our community is paramount and we are proud to undertake this critically important work.
Penn State Director of Emergency Management