ESD 112 Insurance Programs Focus on Risk

Preparing for winter weather

Winter storms can bring cold temperatures, power failures, loss of communication services and icy roads. Preparing for winter conditions can help keep staff and students safe as well as mitigate hazardous exposures which can cause property damage.

Consider the following questions as you prepare for winter:

  1. Does your district have an emergency operations plan that addresses winter weather including possible utility failures such as power outages, loss of water, and burst pipes?
  2. Does your district have a communications plan to notify staff and parents of closures, delays, and bus route changes due to winter conditions?
  3. Does your transportation department review bus routes and identify potential “snow routes” prior to the onset of winter weather?
  4. Do schools have temperature/wind chill guidelines established as to when to allow outdoor recess?
  5. Does the district have procedures for inspecting and maintaining the building during winter weekends and winter break?
  6. Does your district maintenance department conduct inspections and perform preventative maintenance activities in anticipation of winter weather?
  7. Does your district have a vendor or maintenance schedule to clear ice/snow from walkways and parking lots prior to arrival of staff or students? If you use a deicer, do you have it in stock before winter?
  8. Have your emergency preparedness kits been checked and restocked, if necessary?
If you answered "no" to any of the above questions or want to learn more, please reach out to your ESD 112 Risk and Safety Consultant.

The following suggestions may help you in your winter weather preparation and response.


  • Annually review your emergency operations plan and train staff on emergency procedures.
  • Test your parent notification system.
  • Keep a current staff contact list for emergencies and send snow-day procedure reminders to parents and staff. Verify that student contact information is complete and accurate.
  • Post timely announcements on the district website and on other district social media platforms or communication tools.
  • Know how and where to get weather and road information.
  • Promptly contact ESD 112 Insurance Programs to report any weather-related damage claims.


  • All district-owned vehicles should contain emergency supplies such as first aid kits, etc.
  • Review hazardous bus routes with all substitute drivers.
  • Remind bus drivers not to let students off the bus if there is any question about their ability to reach their home safely or if the bus route cannot be completed. If these conditions are present, instruct bus drivers to return students to their school.
  • Remind students to use extra caution when boarding the bus, crossing streets, and walking down the side of the road during icy and snowy conditions.


  • Monitor and maintain building temperatures at a minimum of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or higher during freezing conditions.
  • Test emergency lighting and the emergency generator (if you have one) to ensure they are functioning properly. Ensure the generator has an adequate supply of fuel.
  • Winterize your heating systems, sprinkler systems, air conditioning equipment, pressure vessel vents, relief valves, and other mechanical equipment to prevent freezing damage. Protect water-based fire extinguishing equipment from freezing, including all types of wet automatic sprinkler systems. Drain condensation from low points and set all dry automatic sprinkler systems.
  • Ensure all fire hydrants and fire protection control valves are clear of any obstacles.
  • Insulate water pipes to prevent freezing. Drain water lines if they cannot be protected. Give special attention to areas that are likely to freeze first, such as entryways, remote stairs, towers, and concealed spaces.
  • Winterize outside faucets; take hoses off and consider using insulting covers.
  • Perform storm drain inspections.
  • Inspect all roofs, drains, gutters, and downspouts; clear and repair them as needed. Make sure the roof can handle heavy snow accumulation.
  • After a freeze, inspect pipes for leaks and repair if detected. Know where the water shutoff valve is located. Never use open flame devices to thaw pipes!
  • Ensure that building custodians shovel, sand, or salt exterior stairs and paths to clear ice and snow. Be careful not to create slipping hazards by stacking snow in locations relative to walkways where runoff would freeze and cause slippery conditions.
  • Ensure parking lot and exterior building lights are functional as well as turn on and off at appropriate times.
  • Conduct tree inspections, specifically looking for damaged branches, tree rot and dead trees, and remove any trees and damaged limbs immediately to prevent injuries from falling branches and trees.
  • Secure and lock gates to parking lots and driveways in either the open or closed position to minimize them from swinging and potentially causing injury or property damage.
  • Chains across driveways should be well marked and highly visible to drivers and not pose a tripping hazard to pedestrians. Placing a "closed gate" sign, painting the chain in a highly visible color, or attaching fluorescent caution tape to the chain helps drivers and pedestrians easily see the chains across driveways.

Fire Safety:

  • Have all holiday trees and wreaths sprayed with fire retardant before being brought into school buildings. Remove these items before leaving on winter break.
  • Do not allow burning candles or any type of open flame to be used for decorations or celebrations.
  • Avoid using extension cords for decorative lighting. Unplug decorative lighting at the end of each day, as they are a common cause of electrical fires.
  • Restrict the use of unauthorized portable electric comfort heaters. Maintain at least a 3-ft. clearance between space heaters and combustible materials.
  • During winter break, consider unplugging computer equipment and storing it in secure rooms without windows or with window coverings drawn.
To help minimize the ravages of winter weather to district property, download this helpful Winter Weather Planning Checklist.
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