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Is Your Campus Prepared for Extreme Weather?

Good building design, emergency notification systems and proper policies will help you mitigate your campus’ inclement and extreme weather risks.

Please note this article was written before Sunday’s tornadoes that devastated parts of Alabama. Our hearts go out to all of those affected, particularly those who lost their lives and their loved ones.


With the Midwest and East Coast recovering from another polar vortex and the Southwest drying out from the Pineapple Express’ record rainfall, there is no better time than now to talk about extreme weather.

Although active shooter attacks get a lot of our attention, a much greater number of schools, colleges and healthcare facilities are impacted by dangerous weather, such as extreme cold and snow, extreme heat, hail, flooding, lightning, high winds, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and more. Campuses must remember to plan for these emergencies, especially now that scientists predict we will experience more extreme weather in the coming years due to climate change.

Fortunately, unlike active shooter attacks or other natural disasters, such as earthquakes, that don’t provide warnings, we usually know when we are in for a bout of bad weather. That’s why monitoring RSS feeds from the National Weather Service is a good idea. (Check out my video interview with Singlewire above for more on this topic.) Additionally, there are services that can deliver automatic notifications to campus safety and security administrators when dangerous weather is approaching.

However, long before any notification is received, hopefully your campus buildings have been designed to withstand weather threats. If possible, your campus’ likely exposure to various types of weather, which should be determined by a vulnerability assessment, should dictate a building’s design and location.

Is your facility located in an area prone to tornadoes? Perhaps consider building a safe room, or at the very least, clearly designate the best available shelter. Is your campus in a flood zone? If so, it’s probably not a good idea to put your generators and data storage/IT equipment in the basement, especially if the building is next to a stream running through campus. Is your building in an area that is considered high-risk for wildfires? Then it’s advisable to frequently clear away surrounding brush.

Campuses must also determine under what circumstances and how they’ll send students home, evacuate patients, shelter in place or some other option. Inclement weather plans for a large high school hosting a football game in the fall might be very different than the plans for that same campus hosting a small choir performance in the early spring. The hurricane evacuation plans for hospitals in Houston or Florida would almost certainly be very different than the wildfire evacuation plans for hospitals on the West Coast.

And then there are the majority of times when weather issues aren’t as severe as a hurricane or tornado but still have the potential to cause injury. During these times, you might determine your organization should monitor the situation and take steps to mitigate the risks.

For example, during a heat wave, you provide extra water, shade and cooling stations to outdoor event attendees or athletes practicing on the football field. Or, perhaps, you are hosting an outdoor activity where there is a slight chance of rain. It would be wise to have a plan of action to address the potential for lightning.

And then, of course, your organization must determine how you will communicate with your students, staff, clinicians, visitors and the surrounding community so they respond effectively to the threat. Will you use text alerts? A public address system? Email? Loudspeakers? Bull horns? Desktop popups? Digital signage? Some or all of these technologies? Be sure to reach the sight impaired and hearing impaired, as well as individuals who might not understand English.

I urge all campus protection pros to take a good, hard look at your weather response plans. Remember, weather hazards don’t just happen in their designated seasons. Tornadoes happen all year long and tropical depressions have occurred before June 1 and after November 1. In California, officials are now saying there really isn’t a fire season anymore because wildfires happen 12 months of the year.

What I’ve covered only scratches the surface when it comes to weather emergency preparedness. Many of you probably already understand the gravity of this issue, but perhaps it’s not top of mind right now. Let this article be your friendly reminder to make it a priority.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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