Emergency Closing Procedures

With more snow on the way, the University has again taken a look at the weather forecast to see whether or not students will be at risk. The process to determine school closing begins 72 hours before the storm is expected to hit the New York area.

Denise Vencak-Toner, executive director of Public Safety Risk & Risk Management, explained that there are several factors that have to be taken to determine if the school should close because of inclement weather.

Toner first consults with The Office of Emergency Management and The National Weather Service to see exactly how bad the storm might affect the area. During the 72-hour time period, she will begin consulting other universities and other city agencies like The Board of Education and The Department of Sanitation.

Once a storm begins, communication between several decision makers within the school starts. Vencak-Toner will speak to Martin Bender of Facilities to check the condition of all four New York campuses: Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and Oakdale.

She explained that she will speak to the University’s vice president James Pellow and Provost Julie Upton about closing the school. Vencak-Toner said that closing the school does not usually matter on the amount of inches a snow storm may bring, but rather what traveling conditions will be like for students, staff and faculty such icy roads or mid-storm commutes.

The ultimate factor she said is that “you have to worry about people coming and going.” She also said that the safety of the University’s students comes first.

If and when the university is closed, Dominic Scianna, vice president of Media Relations, begins the process of making the announcement. Scianna first must notify local news networks to broadcast the University’s closing as well as announcements via text messages, automated phone calls and posts on St. John’s Central. Scianna said that the information goes out as soon as the decision to close is made.

Scianna credits the emergency text message system as the biggest success in notifying students before they attempt to journey to their respective campuses.

Junior Jeffrey Hanover was traveling to campus during last Wednesday’s storm when he received a text message telling him the school would be closing early, at 3 p.m. During poor weather Hanover said his fifteen minute commute from Middle Village could normally be doubled.

“I feel that the University has done a good job so far this semester in deciding when to close the University,” he said. Though he received a text message nearly immediately, he said that he already arrived to campus by the time the news was out.

“While it is understandable that the University made a decision that day as the weather worsened,” Hanover said. “Many students and professors including myself were already en route to afternoon class and then had to turn around ultimately causing everyone’s travel to have been unproductive.”