School Districts Take to the Cloud over Snow Days

Bus Under SnowLocals are anxiously waiting for what could be the first city snowfall in 35 years in San Francisco. Fortunately the weekend weather isn’t forecast to disrupt commuters or school, but I thought I would share this post just in case the weather turns early.

Most parents east of the Mississippi can attest to the chaos involved in contingency planning for unexpected school closures – with nobody at the school to confirm/deny a snow day at 5am, what else can people do besides plan for the best and expect the worst?

Many local news stations have begun to deploy Twitter #hashtags to notify tech-friendly students and teachers of school closures – a fine solution – for communities that are 100% ‘plugged-in’.  A few school districts however have moved to the head of the class this winter by activating virtual ‘hotlines’ – dedicated telephone numbers that people can call anytime for weather-related updates. The essence of a snow day is that, due to extreme weather conditions, school administrators do not want anyone attempting to travel to the school that day. Virtual hotlines can be set up in minutes online for $10 or less, allowing schools and offices to keep people informed without having to face the elements.

The move by schools, government offices and other public service providers is not only a productive move but also a prudent one. With 48 out of 50 states working through budget shortfalls from the recession, municipalities quickly rethink any requests for hardware purchases or software upgrades.

The benefit of virtual phone hotlines is that the actual hardware is owned and managed by the hosted communications service, not by the end customer.  Some state- or nationwide organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have set up dial-by-county directories for their 67 county offices – in an hour or so – without having to purchase any additional equipment from the phone company. Given the unusual weather patterns wreaking havoc on cities across the US this winter it’s an added bonus to have an emergency plan to keep communication lines open.