Providence calls off school to avoid another 'debacle'

Public school administrators in Providence have called off classes for Friday, hoping to repeat the "December debacle" of five years ago.

School buses got stuck in a snowstorm after an early dismissal on Dec. 13, 2007. The city of Providence hasn't had an early dismissal since.

"Early dismissal causes a lot of moving pieces to have to be completely reorganized. It's really one of the cases of snow management that we try to avoid now," said Christina O'Reilly, spokeswoman for the Providence school department.

Now, the department coordinates with the city's Emergency Management Agency, which operates from the Emergency Operations Center on Charles Street with data from every snow plow and every fire truck. It knows across the city what the storm is doing.

Thursday, it was just about preparing for Friday.

"The snow operation lets us do those things that we do in an emergency under a little less pressure. It's not a hurricane or a tornado, and it kind of develops slowly," said Peter Gaynor of PEMA.

Another improvement over the past five years, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is also part of the storm preparation team and sends out emails in events like this, advising companies to keep most employees home -- and at least send them home by noon Friday if they are called in.

"A lot of businesses call and say, 'I presume that you're planning with EMA and we're waiting from word from the chamber on what we should do,'" said Laurie White, the chamber's president.