March 7 2018
Whenever there is a snow day or even a delay in Howard County, most students and teachers wake up with excitement and a renewed sense of happiness. They can sleep in, eat a good breakfast, watch Netflix, and get a little extra time to do that homework they “forgot” about. However, this decision to cancel school due to inclement weather doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a team of people and departments working late nights and early mornings to help make this call.
Principal Ms. Hutchens and Assistant Principal Mr. Scible called this decision making process “very thorough” but also “tough.”
One of the main people behind this decision making process is Tom McNeal, the Director of Security, Emergency Preparedness in HCPSS. McNeal works closely with the Director of Transportation, David Ramsey, the man who officially makes “the call,” or sends the Superintendent a recommendation.
According to McNeal, he and Ramsey look at a variety of factors and sources to help them make their recommendation.The decisions, McNeal said, are based off a plethora of environmental factors, such as the type and amount of precipitation expected, as well as the amount of wind. Both McNeal and Ramsey analyze information from several Howard County specific consultants and nationwide weather sources. Ramsey gathers information from meteorologists, the Howard County Department of Public Works-Bureau of Highways, the Howard County Office of Emergency Management, and other Howard County facilities, and McNeal relies primarily on National Weather Service Baltimore and Washington Field Office for weather updates.
McNeal says that sometimes, “we are working early mornings, nights, or weekends to keep the Superintendent informed.”He added that when there is inclement weather, they “begin the discussions about the incoming weather system[s] well before it arrives,” which likely means getting very little sleep on the days that the weather forecasts dangerous conditions.
According to McNeal, those involved in the decision making process do a lot to analyze the incoming weather, such as “exchange key information, hold conference calls, and meetings to discuss the incoming weather.” The process, according to Mr. Scible, starts around 3 a.m.
This process has changed over the years, Ms. Hutchens said, specifically in the years since she has been in part of Howard County. “People now very quickly know once the decision has been made, before it used to take a half an hour to an hour before the public knew.”
Even though Ramsey and McNeal consult several Howard County departments to decide if the entire school system closes, they do not have a known say in the closing of individual schools. According to Ms. Hutchens, only Central Office and the principal of that school decide whether the individual school closes. She added that if there are a hazardous condition that only affect Atholton, such as a water main break or broken heating system, then she would “send [her] information to somebody at Central Office and the Superintendent would make the call.”
Furthermore, she and Mr. Scible also said that the school, more specifically the custodians, are in charge of clearing the schools sidewalks of snow or ice, while the county is in charge of plowing the school parking lots.
The Howard County decision making process for inclement weather is in fact a long, tough, and thorough one, but most of all it is the definition of a team effort when it comes to making.