When a polar vortex kept the wind chill well below zero for several days last January, the University canceled a day of classes due to severe weather for the first time since 1978. Monday, the University released an updated policy to guide future partial or entire severe weather-related closures.

Under the new policy, the executive director of the University’s Division of Safety and Security is responsible for assessing conditions and consulting with experts before providing a recommendation to the University president about whether to reduce University operations or cancel classes.

The updated policy has been renamed Emergency Reduction in Operations instead of Emergency Closure in Operations, since the University provides many critical services, such as health care provisions and services in campus residence halls, that cannot be fully suspended.

Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for Human Resources, chaired the committee charged with updating the University’s policy. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Thomas said the University was never completely closed when classes were cancelled last January.

“All of our commitments to research, to patient care and to our community, the university is never going to close, but it can reduce operations if safety calls for that and warrants that,” she said

According to the committee’s initial report, “It is the policy of the University to remain open and not to ‘close’ because of the critical services that are required to preserve both human and animal lives, maintain the physical infrastructure and to continue all operational services critical to students, faculty, staff, patients and to the public.”

Each school and college will compose an individual continuity of operations plan to identify operations and specific employees that are still required to report to campus during severe weather conditions. This list of critical members is due to DPSS Emergency Management Office at the end of November.

In tasking the executive director of DPSS with making final reduction recommendations, Thomas said the committee wanted to centeralize the decision to best promote the community’s safety.

Under the updated policy, leaders at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn will continue to have discretion to make their own service reduction decisions during weather emergencies.

A few weeks before the University’s 2014 “cold day,” some students criticized the administration for allowing classes to resume after Winter Break, even amid sub-zero temperatures and delayed flights.

At a meeting of the University’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs the next week, University Provost Martha Pollack said the University did not have a substantial plan in place to close the University if necessary.

“By the time it became clear that we were facing an extraordinary weather event, we realized that we didn’t have appropriate mechanisms to close the University even if we wanted to,” she said. “Closing a university is more like closing a city than closing a building. You can’t just close; there is a hospital, there is a police force, there are students on campus who need to be fed.”

As a result, the University’s executive vice presidents called for a faculty and staff committee to review the University’s plans to reduce operations in an emergency weather situation. The committee consisted of 24 faculty and staff members from a variety of units and completed a report of final recommendations in April.

“We’ve done work on clarity, we are working on our continuity of operations plans, we want to focus on our effectiveness going forward should we have another severe weather event,” Thomas said.

Daily Staff Reporter Allana Akhtar contributed to this report.

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