Inclement weather prompted university officials to close Butler University’s campus Tuesday and Wednesday.
An ‘unprecedented’ winter storm
The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning early Monday evening to remain in effect through 7 p.m. Wednesday. It said the storm had the potential of dropping more than an inch of ice, and snow accumulation that could exceed 10 inches in the Indianapolis area.
Freezing rain started falling on Butler’s campus around 6 p.m. Monday and ice had collected on cars, roads and sidewalks by 6:45 p.m.
Indianapolis officials warn citizens
This type of storm required preparation from everyone the storm could impact, Joe Wainscott, executive director for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said in a press release.
“We’re looking at a very powerful storm headed for the heartland and public safety officials will be working around the clock to be prepared as possible,” Wainscott said. “We need all Hoosiers to join in the effort. Everyone should take the time we have now before this storm hits to prepare themselves and their families.”
720 people were left without power in the Indianapolis area as of 11:05 p.m. Tuesday. Power outages were to be expected, Wainscott said.
“With weather systems like this, it’s not uncommon to see widespread power outages,” Wainscott said. “While utility companies will be working as hard as they can to repair any outages, storms of this size and magnitude often make it very difficult to keep up.”
Officials at Butler prepare
Ben Hunter, director of Butler’s Emergency Operations Team, started receiving information late Sunday night in regards to the storm and began planning in case an emergency would arise, but he said the plans do not always work out the way they are written.
“We can plan and plan and plan,” Hunter said. “At any time, though, one little thing could go wrong that could just throw everything off.”
Five buildings on campus are equipped with emergency generators in case of a power outage.
Butler runs on an independent power plant, located next to Schwitzer Hall. Hunter said that if Butler were to lose power, the buildings most likely to be impacted are those located on the outskirts of campus, including Ross Hall, the
Greek houses, University Terrace and the Apartment Village since the power lines are not as thick and more susceptible to breaking under the weight of ice.
In the event that dorms were to lose power, parents and students would be notified through a phone tree system of what to do next.
“We are kind of in a sticky situation,” Hunter said. “We can’t ask students to get in their cars and drive home, so there really is no perfect solution to an emergency like this.”
Food services are supplied with enough food to last three days, Hunter said, so there is no worry about the university’s ability to provide food for residential students.
Students on campus were advised to stay indoors and to avoid leaving campus.
“Your dorm is the safest place on campus in a situation like this,” Hunter said.
Crews were called to campus to start clearing the primary paths and sidewalks for students at about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“We’re going to have people coming in to assess the situation, but this is an unprecedented ice storm, so to an extent, it really doesn’t matter how much we plan,” Hunter said.
Closing campus and looking ahead
The storm led the EOT to declare the situation on campus as a “category two emergency.”
According to the Campus Emergency Response Plan, “A category two event requires response by multiple operational units or divisions of the university.”
The EOT met around 3 p.m. Monday to determine the precautions to take in case of an emergency situation on campus and made the decision to close campus for the following day by 5 p.m. The resolution to close campus on
Wednesday was made at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“We decided for the safety of our students, our faculty and our staff, that closing campus would be the wisest decision,” Hunter said.
Provost Jamie Comstock, a member of the EOT, helped determine whether or not to close campus or cancel classes.
“Because a decision to close campus and cancel class impacts thousands of people, we want to make the decision both carefully and deliberately,” Comstock said. “Once we make a sound decision regarding how best to balance safety concerns with the student learning concerns, we strive to publish the information as soon as possible.”
Students were informed of the closures through all-campus e-mail and Butler’s Instant Alert Plus system, which is capable of sending 150,000 30-second phone calls and 125,000 text messages directly to the phones of students, faculty and staff in 15 minutes.
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures are not forecasted to reach above freezing until Sunday afternoon, so there is no telling when the snow and ice will start to melt.