Blizzard pummels city, shuts down college

By Amanda Murphy

The city was engulfed in mounds of snow, citizens were hounded by 67 mph winds and people were forced to abandon their cars in an attempt to get home. These conditions forced Columbia to close for two-and-a-half days whenthe third largest snowstorm in Chicago’s history hit on Feb.1.

The blizzard, which lasted until the afternoon of Feb. 2, left the city in a state of disarray. The extreme conditions forced the college to close to ensure the safety of Columbia students and employees.

“Every decision we made was based upon the safety of students, faculty and staff,” said Robert Koverman, associate vice president of Safety and Security

at Columbia.

The college sent out multiple automated emails and phone calls throughout the 72 hours to guarantee students and staff were updated on the situation with

the college.

“Having been through previous closures before with the Send Word Now system, we were never able to better communicate so people knew what the decision was,” said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs. “I am happy to see that system work.”

John Kavouris, associate vice president of Facilities and Construction, said Columbia encountered minimal damage including two blown out windows because of the strong winds. One was at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., and the other at the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave. The windows were immediately boarded up and will be replaced soon, Kavouris said. There was no indication the buildings lost heat or power, and the roofs proved to be structurally sound, he said.

“We did not have many problems at all,” Kavouris said. “The buildings came through the storm almost completely unscathed.”

The school hired MP Snow Services, a company that specializes in plowing, to take care of the snow removal, and building engineers were on-site throughout the night, making sure there were no major problems or damage.

In the past two decades, the college has experienced sporadic closings, Kelly said. In April 1992, the college closed because a damaged tunnel flooded the Loop with 250 million gallons of water. The college also shut down, along with the rest of city, on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I’ve been here 27 years, and there hasn’t been a time that I can remember where the college has been closed for two and a half days,” Kelly said.

Koverman said he and other members of the college received the first weather alert on Jan. 30 at 5:30 a.m. and started to watch the storm after that.

Throughout Jan. 30, the storm updates moved quickly, Koverman said, and by 11:30 a.m., the winter storm watch had turned into a blizzard watch.

“What we look for in these kinds of situations is consistency in terms of what the various weather sources are saying,” Koverman said.

When the oncoming weather became more imminent, Koverman said the administrators began to plan for the worst. He said the college’s Incident Assessment Task Force was created for situations such as these.

The task force, which consists of representatives from all areas of the college, assesses certain emergency situations and presents the college administrators with information and proposed strategies. Ultimately, the decision of closing is up to President Warrick L. Carter,

Koverman said.

The first alert went out at 7:46 a.m. on Feb. 1, informing students and faculty that the classes after 12:30 p.m. would be cancelled and all buildings would close at 2 p.m.

“We took a look at class schedules and made the decision if we cancel class at 12:30 p.m., it would give people sufficient time to get home,” Koverman said.

For the remainder of Feb. 1, the administrative heads were constantly in contact about what the next step for the college would be, Koverman said.

When it was apparent transportation would be nearly impossible because of the large volume of snow the city had received, the decision to close the college on Feb. 2 was made.

“[On the] afternoon [of Feb. 1], the emergency policy group—which is comprised of the vice presidents and I—sat down and put all of the information together we had gathered throughout the day,” Koverman said. “We made the decision in the interest of safety for everyone and to allow the city of Chicago to continue doing their work.”

Throughout the duration of the storm, Columbia had staff on campus making sure the snow was cleared and the buildings were safe and functional,

Kavouris said.

The notice informing Columbia students and faculty the school would stay closed on Feb. 3 came at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 2.

The reason for closing the college down on for the second full day was because transportation was still difficult in parts of the Chicagoland area, and the low temperatures, Kavouris said.