How does NKU make the call to close?


Abby Anstead

A snow plow pushes through the sludge in an effort to clean up campus. NKU was closed Wednesday, Feb. 18 due to inclement weather.

Tori Lentz, News Editor

UPDATE: The university is closed Friday, Feb. 20 due to extreme temperatures.

As NKU experiences cancelled classes for the fifth day this week, Police Chief Jason Willis breaks down how administrators decide whether or not to close the university.

Anytime severe weather has the potential to close campus, NKU Police Chief Jason Willis follows a specific routine. First he checks the latest forecast models, keeps a close eye on the major routes to campus, talks to dispatchers and yes, he even reads your tweets.

“Sometimes we make the best decision in the beginning, and sometimes it may not be…but I think we always make the right decision,” Willis said.

Willis meets with Larry Blake, assistant vice president for facilities management and Ken Ramey, vice president of administration and finance to discuss the effect winter weather might have on campus. The three administrators then give their recommendation to President Mearns, who makes the final call.

Here’s what played into their decisions this week:

Monday, Feb. 16

Willis, Blake and Ramey usually begin discussing the approaching snow a day or two before the storm strikes.

“With this storm, it kind of snuck up on us a little bit, but we began the process of discussing it on Sunday morning,” Willis said.

The three administrators checked alerts, forecast models and briefings from different list servs that they follow, including information from officials of the Kentucky Homeland Security, National Weather Service and Campbell County.

“We watch the news just like anybody else, but the briefings that we get are a little more detailed than what you might see on the news,” Willis said. “Sometimes the news can glamorize things a little bit and the idea is they want you to come back and keep watching and so they give you little teasers and things.”

Willis said he and the other administrators were most concerned about snow hitting NKU in the middle of the day.

“We were kind of worried that it might hit while students, faculty and staff were driving in to class,” Willis said. “And then the other thing we were worried about was that once students were there, there would be a good chance that we would have to close school early and send everybody home and we didn’t really want to do that.”

For these reasons, Willis said he felt it was in the best interests of students to close campus.

Tuesday, Feb. 17

By the next morning, Willis said some roads in the area still hadn’t been cleared.

“We anticipated that the next morning would still be pretty cold, we weren’t sure how the roads were going to be, so we thought that delaying until noon would give time for the sun to come up for the roads to melt a little bit,” Willis said. “That would give time for students, faculty and staff to get to work and also give our grounds crew a little time.”

Willis said safety is essential to each decision.

“It’s pretty important that we communicate closings far ahead of time and I can’t stress enough that safety is the number one priority when we’re deciding whether to close or not,” Willis said.

He said he’s closely followed what students have said on social media.

“I have a pretty good pulse on social media, tweets and things, and I read them, all the students’ tweets and I really want to get the point across that we really do care and I think that’s pretty indicative by the decisions we’ve made as far as our closings,” Willis said.

Wednesday, Feb. 18

Willis woke up at 4 a.m. Wednesday to monitor snow conditions and phone the Kentucky State Police about roadways.

“The initial forecast was one to two inches,” Willis said. “So we started to figure that the brunt of the snow is starting to come during rush hour, so what we need to do immediately is we need to delay until 10 a.m. so we need to make sure that our students, faculty and staff aren’t getting on the roads.”

When more than two inches blanketed the campus, administrators made the decision to delay classes further.

“We moved it to noon to give more time to watch and see how the weather played out,” Willis said.

Road conditions worsened, so the decision was made to cancel classes for the remainder of the day.

“We ended up getting more snow than what was forecasted,” Willis said “And so we believed it was in the best interests of everybody’s safety to cancel. I think that was the best decision.”

Thursday, Feb. 19

Extreme subzero temperatures were the cause of Thursday’s closure rather than snowy conditions. A wind chill warning issued for Campbell County played a large factor in determining the cancellation of classes, according to Willis.

“Not that there’s any scientific proof of it, but it always feels like it’s 20 degrees colder on campus because of the buildings and the wind and things and because of the wind chill warning,” Willis said.

He said there’s no particular temperature that is deemed to be too cold for classes; it depends mostly on warnings from the National Weather Service and any travel warnings that might be issued.

“We always go by if Campbell County has a travel warning like if they have a level two or level three travel warning, that’s a pretty important guideline for us to use,” Willis said.

Friday, Feb. 20

At 9 a.m. Thursday Willis said he was already in discussions about what effect Friday’s conditions might have on campus.

“I have an ongoing conversation and I’m texting with Larry Blake and Ken Ramey and we’ve been texting this morning already,” Willis said. “I’m not sure where we’ll go, I know it’s going to be cold again tomorrow, but that’s something we’ll continue to evaluate today and see what happens.”

Students were notified Thursday evening that classes would be cancelled Friday due to extreme temperatures.

He said students should have plenty of notice if there are further delays or closings.

“We do have a severe weather policy, there’s certain times we go by such as we try to cancel class by 6 a.m,” Willis said. “We’re pretty adherent to that policy, it’s pretty important to us that we give plenty of warning to students.”

Campbell County is currently under a wind chill advisory through noon on Friday.