Campus Safety and the university’s Incident Response Meteorologist Troy Kimmel work diligently year-round to plan and prepare for inclement weather while also educating the campus community about ways to be prepared on and off campus. Campus Safety’s Director of Emergency Preparedness Jonathan Robb emphasizes that because campus is most vulnerable to severe weather emergencies compared to other types of emergency events, being prepared is the best way to minimize the possible disastrous effects that can occur.
Kimmel monitors weather, provides forecasts for certain events and uses specific terms to keep the community abreast of any weather changes. He notes that it is important to know the differences among a watch (keep an eye on the weather), advisory (use caution) and warning (seek shelter immediately).
"During periods of severe and inclement weather, meteorologists work in a partnership with the general public," Kimmel said. "Before bad weather arrives, it is critically important that the public know the difference between a National Weather Service watch, advisory and warning. In addition, everyone must have a proactive weather action plan to protect their lives and property.
"When the dangerous weather arrives, the public must listen to us for the latest weather information and be able to use that information with their own critical thinking skills to activate their personal weather safety plan that they developed in advance. That goes for our students, faculty and the staff of The University of Texas as well as the general public."
Campus Safety’s and Kimmels' social media accounts aim to help followers plan and prepare for weather emergencies while on campus and at home. According to Robb, preparing before a storm and knowing what actions you are going to take can greatly reduce your risk for injury. For example, when sheltering from a storm on campus, people should go to the interior corridors on the lowest level of the building, away from windows.
Robb suggests that everyone create a home emergency kit that includes batteries, flashlights, medications, three days of food and bottled water, and important documents, for example. That kit can be adapted for campus and personal vehicles as well.
Once inclement weather has been determined to be a threat, the university community is notified by various methods including outdoor sirens, text alerts, emails and desktop pop-up notices for employees. The university emergency website posts up-to-date information related to ongoing emergency incidents or campus closures. Official university social media accounts such as @UTAustin or @UTAustinPolice also post emergency notifications with follow-up information, along with educational weather safety guidance.
"As an example, the university has connected the UT Austin Alert text system to the National Weather Service tornado warnings," Robb said. "In the event a tornado warning is issued for the main campus area, a text alert is automatically sent to campus constituents with important safety information."
Members of the campus community can sign up for campus text alerts online.
Through its efforts to prepare for weather emergencies, UT has been recognized as a "StormReady" university and received awards.
"Through collaborative work of UT Campus Safety and Campus Security as well as the National Weather Service (NWS) Austin-San Antonio, the university is officially recognized as a National Weather Service StormReady university," Kimmel said. "The StormReady program offers a proactive approach to prepare and plan for severe weather and to educate the community on severe weather and weather safety to minimize risks and save lives."
Kimmel, who is also a senior lecturer at UT, was recently elected as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in 2022. Recipients of this prestigious award are nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions. He has been a member of AMS since the 1980s.