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How Can School Districts Protect Themselves Against Severe Weather?

Dec 16, 2020

The decision to cancel school is one that all superintendents wrestle with any time the forecast calls for inclement weather. Safety is the primary concern when making any decision about closures, but there are a number of factors that go into determining whether it will be safe to operate.

With the number of public weather sources available, there is always the potential that members of the community will disagree with your decision. Especially if school is cancelled and severe weather doesn’t materialize; or worse, you decide to proceed as normal, but the weather is more severe than forecast putting students and staff at risk.

School districts have an immense responsibility to operate efficiently while also prioritizing the safety of students, teachers and staff. Public weather information can provide helpful insights, but site-specific forecasts provide actionable information—a crucial aspect of any proactive plan for severe weather events. What do you do when a severe weather or tropical forecast has been issued for the general public, but you are unsure how it will affect your school day?

Finding the right weather forecast is vital in making significant decisions like cancelling school or delaying opening or outdoor weather events. If these forecasts are not location-specific, there can be significant impacts to your decisions and post-weather operations, such as:

  • Confusion by local media – The forecasts are often focused on a general region, rather than your specific area, and information between stations can be inconsistent.
  • Unexpected weather conditions at your location – When utilizing free weather resources (such as the news or apps), you may find yourself caught off-guard by weather conditions. This is particularly true for areas with large districts or more rural areas, where the weather can change drastically within just a few miles, and conditions that you experience might be more severe than what was forecast for the entire region. Small districts and urban areas are not immune to this effect, however.
  • Unforeseen costs to repair or rebuild – Weather greatly impacts the resilience of your facilities, especially when those facilities have not been properly secured beforehand.
  • Safety risks that increase liability – Maintaining the safety of your students, teachers and staff is a huge liability. Making the decision on whether to cancel should not depend on generic weather information, as it does not take the location and thresholds of your facility into account.
  • Disruption to your supply chain – Schools have deliveries coming and going every day. Until your facilities find the best weather windows for scheduling deliveries, they are at risk of delays, damage and cancellations that disrupt operations. A severe thunderstorm might postpone a delivery by a day, but a blizzard or hurricane can disrupt deliveries for weeks or more.
  • Failure of facility infrastructure – Your maintenance teams are responsible for ensuring your facilities stay up and running during significant weather events. General weather forecasts do not include actionable notifications to conduct maintenance checks on IT networks, air systems and backup generators. This means more frequent outages and failures at your facilities.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), every state in the United States has experienced at least one billion-dollar natural disaster. Weather affects all regions, and depending on your geographical location, you may be even more vulnerable to some types of severe weather. Here are some of the ways location-specific weather forecasts can help mitigate risks and improve operational efficiencies:

  1. Access to a team of experts – Having a team of experienced meteorologists available by phone or email any time of day is especially useful when determining whether to close or delay school. Rather than making guesses based on broad forecasts from the local media or a free app, a team of experts focused on your specific interests, locations and assets will provide actionable decision guidance based on the established thresholds of your facilities.
  2. Enhance safety and accountability – Knowing the weather conditions expected at your location(s) helps you determine working hours, student schedules, evacuation areas, etc. and streamlines communication between all responsible parties.
  3. Reduce costs by taking a proactive weather approach – If you base your planning around location-specific weather forecasts, unexpected costs due to weather damage, personnel liability, loss of goods and full closures can be avoided. It only takes one significant weather event to strain your budget, so it’s important to ensure you have the right resources and preparations in place ahead of time.
  4. Maintain resiliency – Strong infrastructures, machinery and materials are vital to avoid damage during severe weather, regardless of if you are sheltering in place or have been evacuated. Location-specific weather support gives your maintenance team context into when to expect certain impacts at their location, allowing precautionary maintenance to be ordered. This gives your facilities the best chance at weathering the storm.
  5. Optimize logistics – Special deliveries are required to keep your schools running day-to-day. Site-specific forecasts allow you to take expected weather impacts to your location into account when coordinating with vendors. It’s also important to set up alternate vendors in case your current vendors are unable to fulfill their deliveries. This will keep costs associated with cancellations and delays to a minimum.
  6. Back to normal operations – Being caught by unexpected severe weather can have serious consequences, but so can returning to business too soon. With your safety in mind, expert meteorologists help you prepare for, respond to and recover from severe weather with timely communications and advisories so your team can restore normal operations at the moment it is safe to do so.

The best decision you can make for your school district is to recognize your area’s weather risks and take a proactive approach to preparedness and response. StormGeo, as a global provider of weather intelligence solutions and 24/7/365 decision support, is here for you and your team, and will have your back when you need us most.

Learn more about StormGeo’s location-specific decision support solutions.

Save our infographic with top tips for protecting against severe weather.

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