Photo by Athena Pajer
It’s not common for colleges to have snow days, but Millikin has had two so far, this semester. Decatur winters can be harsh—and dangerous, in some cases.
Director of Public Safety Chris Ballard explains that deciding to call a “snow day,” where several campus operations are suspended, is a difficult decision to make.
“We have to look at a lot of different things,” Ballard said. “The one thing that people fail to understand is, well, there’s so many layers to it. We have commuter students that drive in from outside campus district area, and driving, we have faculty and staff that have to do that. On the flip side of that, we have a large residential component that we still have to provide food for and heating and facilities maintenance and the Public Safety team and all of that.”
These “snow days” are decided at a presidential level. An executive team looks at variables like snow, ice, temperature, and even other opinions to decide whether or not to have normal operations that day.
“And usually the number one is, you know, what’s the level of safety?” Ballard said. “And the number two is can we sustain normal operations? And is it reasonable? We see ourselves as a business, so we’re providing a product, and we want to do that as much as we can. So our inclination is to try to be open and go from there.”
Keeping this in mind, the decision whether or not to have a snow day might not work for everyone—especially commuter students. Sometimes extra caution is needed, and commuter students have to decide if they are going to come to campus even if Millikin has not called a snow day.
“Prevention and awareness are number one and then, if the conditions are getting bad, you need to make the adult decision, and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable driving in this,’” Ballard said. “Okay, that’s fine. You know, reach out to your faculty, reach out to Student Development and let them know.”
Driving is one of the more dangerous activities to do in the winter. Public Safety can respond to vehicles that slide off the road in the immediate area around campus. They also have a jump-start kit for any dead batteries.
“That is about 80% effective,” Ballard said. “Sometimes the batteries are so far drained or it’s just so cold, it’s not going to work.”
Ballard recommends preparing for the winter before starting the school year by replacing batteries older than 5 or 6 years.
During most snowy days, safe rides provided by Public Safety are still available, but they might be slow. The van, Ballard says, is not designed for snowy inclines.
For most cars, the toughest intersection on campus is the Oakland/Main St. intersection that goes under the overpass. However, the difficulty at this intersection is usually caused by large pile-ups of snow. On campus, ice is the bigger problem.
“My biggest fear is always ice, like when we get sleet or freezing rain, because that leads to slip-falls,” Ballard said.
When cold weather and ice is a risk, Public Safety works even more closely with facilities to spread salt melt.
Slip-falls, Ballard warns, are an even bigger risk during the days after a winter storm, when snow starts to melt during the day and freeze overnight. These can cause large strips of ice to form, making that morning walk to the cafeteria more treacherous.
Ballard stressed the importance of staying aware and wearing good shoes during weather to prevent slip-falls. Over these last two snow days, Ballard was relieved that they did not need to respond to too many incidents. Most students stayed in their homes.
“So we try to plan ahead for those but not typically, you know, it’s not a surprise, we are paying attention,” Ballard said. “I get daily emails from the National Weather Service and from our partners at the state planning areas. We try to stay on top of things.”
Ballard encourages students to be aware of the weather and stay safe during snowy days.