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Letter: Recent snows provide a lesson for all

A recent article in the West Fargo Pioneer addressed safety concerns that arose due to snowdrifts potentially blocking emergency exits. In the article, it was reported that a mother of a child at Aurora Elementary (Sara Schroeder) called the West Fargo Fire Department to share her concerns about the high snowdrifts she observed when children returned to school on Jan. 2.

In response to these concerns, the West Fargo School District's Buildings and Grounds Director Jeff Goebel said there was difficulty catching up with snow removal after recent storms. He also noted that given the district's limited snow removal equipment, an extra day would have allowed the additional time needed to properly clear the blocked areas.

I want to applaud Schroeder's attention to this matter and the Pioneer for covering the story. I also want to acknowledge the wisdom in Goebel's recognition that additional time was needed to remove the accumulated snow. There is a lesson here for not only area schools, but any business or organization that has a responsibility to maintain safe and accessible premises.

Often, we think of snow events primarily from a travel perspective. We worry whether folks will be able to get to and from work or home safely given the conditions. We consider visibility, road conditions, and storm duration to evaluate the extent to which encouraging travel increases risk. But this story reminds us all that there is more to think about than just travel.

After a winter storm has run its course, impacts that affect operations still endure. Roads and parking lots need to be cleared, sidewalks needed for foot traffic need to be shoveled, and safety features of facilities need to be operational (i.e., exits should not be blocked). If students, employees, clients, or vendors cannot traverse the grounds as needed by vehicle or foot, the school, business, or organization should probably not be open. Additionally, if exits are blocked, it is not sufficient to say that it is okay because not all exits are blocked. Facilities have multiple exits for a reason. Fires can initiate at any location in a facility and unnecessarily blocked exits can increase the possibility of injuries or fatalities; they can also impact the ability of first responders to respond timely. The same is true for an active shooter event or other incident where quick evacuation is critical.

The snow accumulation we saw over the holidays is not an unusual phenomenon for this area. Local schools, businesses, and organizations need to have an adequate plan to address this type of accumulation. This plan could include sanctioning overtime efforts for snow removal staff, making advance arrangements with outside vendors for additional services if available staff and equipment are insufficient, and consideration of closure policies focused on short-term facility concerns (i.e., access and safety). These are fairly simple things to address and are well-worth the effort to ensure that we keep students, employees, clients and vendors safe.

Carol Cwiak, J.D., Ph.D.

West Fargo