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Snow flurries? No worries, with SFU’s improved severe-weather plan

October 30, 2008

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Apollonia Cifarrelli hopes never again to experience a day like last Feb. 6 when a surprise snowstorm led to cancelled evening classes and buses, snarled traffic and stranded dozens of people overnight at SFU’s Burnaby campus.

But the university’s environmental health and safety (EHS) director says a repeat occurrence of campus problems should be less likely now that her department has completed a major overhaul of SFU’s severe weather plan in collaboration with the campus security, facilities services and student services departments.

"It was chaotic, particularly with all the abandoned cars blocking the roads up and down the hill. We learned a lot from the experience. We’ve incorporated those lessons into the plan along with new equipment and procedures designed to prevent something like that from happening again."

The plan’s new features include:

  • A standby phase designed to help assess and, if necessary, mobilize class cancellations more rapidly.
  • Use of the university’s new SFU Alerts mass-communication system.
  • Activation of an emergency operation centre to coordinate and relay information.
  • Traffic measures to re-route buses away from the bus loop to avoid sharp corners and steep grades and the use of staffed parking-lot gates to direct traffic to safe routes and keep traffic moving smoothly.
  • Adding "reverse 911" broadcast capability to the emergency "blue phone" at the bus loop providing information on bus routes and public transit status.
  • Equipping all emergency volunteer team members with two-way radios to ensure up-to-date information, along with fluorescent vests and umbrellas to increase their visibility.
  • Using fire wardens to post signs at building exits
  • Making the webcam at the intersection of Gaglardi Way, University Drive and Burnaby Mountain Parkway accessible to the public.
  • A dedicated EHS severe-weather planning webpage – — with current information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Cifarrelli’s biggest worry now is that she’ll be away on holiday or something when the new plan is first put to the test. "That would be really disappointing," she says.

"But, of course, that’s the whole point of having a plan – because bad weather never makes an appointment."

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