Winter storms keep SU Facilities Department busy


Uncharacteristically heavy snowfall and ice storms this winter have bogged down campus and congested walkways and parking lots with snow, testing Shippensburg University’s weather response systems.

Most years’ miscalculations occur when making weather decisions, especially during harsh winters like this one.

Lance Bryson heads the facilities department as the associate vice president, and said the predictions and coordination of storms so far this year have been nearly flawless. Despite heavy freezing rain and snowfalls exceeding 11 inches, delays and cancellations have been timed flawlessly with the correct preventative measures taken, according to Bryson.

The facilities planning and maintenance department and the grounds department collaborate to orchestrate snow removal and campus maintenance at SU, and they both work closely with all of the departments on campus in the event of inclement weather.

Jerry George, who acts as grounds manager, said snow removal, delays and cancellation planning begin with a response plan. This plan determines what time during or after a storm that snow removal begins, and when or if campus will open.

George and Bryson work closely with other departments and department heads including the police, communications and marketing, food services, administration and finance and academic affairs, in planning the snow response and carrying out the plan.

“Winter weather affects everyone on campus; our department, the police, academics and higher levels (of management),” said Bryson, discussing how the departments work together. “These decisions are based on a combination of science and gut-level experience, and all of the departments work together.”

Bryson mentioned Denny Terrell, vice president of administration and finance, as someone helpful and influential in the decision-making process. All work closely with Peter Gigliotti, executive director of university communications and marketing, who is responsible for informing campus of weather planning decisions and does so in a 5 a.m. email blast.

Decisions must therefore be made before this deadline, resulting in early-morning conference calls for university administrators such as interim President George “Jody” Harpster, Provost Barbara Lyman, Terrell, Gigliotti, George, SU Police Chief Cytha Grissom and Bryson.

Only once this year has the timing of these decisions been a problem, with the ice storm this past week on Feb. 19. The ice had not been forecast nor had it accumulated by the deadline, but had blanketed campus by the time classes began. Bryson said administrators would likely have called for a delay had they known the ice would accumulate, but said this was the only issue with cancellations or delays so far this year.

Facilities also oversees around 30 volunteers who assist with snow removal, according to Bryson, many of whom are considered “essential personnel” by the university. Sometimes these employees stay overnight if the university expects road conditions to make commuting dangerous. This happened for the ice storm on Feb. 5, a sleepover in which George participated.

“I and several other essential personnel slept on campus during the ice storm in February,” said George, describing the emergency response. “Additional volunteers and other help can always come in later when conditions are safer.”

Bryson and George also discussed construction on campus and how snow has affected the process. Outside work has been slowed down, specifically with brick and mortar work and roofing one of the buildings, but there is plenty of room in the construction schedule for weather delays. Bryson said the projects are still ahead of schedule according to the contracts despite the weather, and interior construction has not been affected.

One issue that administrators prepare for in the winter is the possibility of a power outage. Heavy snow and especially freezing rain always have the potential to bring down a power line or cause electrical failure, and the university has implemented a plan for such an emergency.

An example of how facilities prepares for storms was the Feb. 5 ice storm. Not only did essential employees sleep on campus that night, but the electrical and grounds department distributed portable backup generators to various buildings across campus.

The emergency generators that are in each of the buildings do not include the complete services that the power company provides but do provide emergency and hallway lighting. The generators distributed by the electric shop and the grounds crews for the CUB and Reisner are the exceptions; they run all of the functions that would normally be expected.

In addition, heat is functional in all buildings as the steam plant has a backup generator. Heat in the residence halls is not included, but according to Bryson, experience with the buildings suggest the new residence halls retain heat for at least 24 hours, a wide enough window to get power to the buildings before they are uninhabitable.

Residents also have been provided with emergency flashlights in the past, a measure that provides safety when the dimmer emergency lighting is on.

“Our staff is very committed to the students and to the job that we do here,” Bryson said. “Even in emergency situations like a power outage, we have personnel in here already.”

Bryson encourages students to pay attention to weather issues and be aware of announcements by the university. Students also should think about where they are parking and try to find spots that have been cleared of snow. Awareness will keep campus safe and speed up response times to winter weather emergencies.

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