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When snowstorms strike, here’s how the university mobilizes

Members of Northeastern's snow team walk through campus during a snowstorm in February 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

A nor’easter is expected to pound the Boston area on Tuesday, dumping a foot of snow or more throughout the region. When it does, Northeastern’s Facilities division will be ready.

Facilities staff members spend months preparing for these types of snowy days. During the fall semester Director of Building Services Mark Boulter, who oversees Facilities’ snow preparations, meets with his colleagues to ensure the snow team members know their assignments—groups are assigned to specific sections of campus for the duration of the winter—and are properly trained on using snow removal equipment.

“We take it very seriously,” Boulter said. “We do a lot of training and education to make sure we keep the university community safe and our workers safe.”

When the snow starts falling, the snow team—comprised of about 60 employees and 40 contract staff—goes to work, deploying plows, sanding machines, bobcats, and, of course, dozens of shovels. The team works around the clock during snowstorms to clear roadways and walkways across all 73 acres of the Boston campus. It often means working long hours, typically through heavy precipitation and driving winds. After a storm ends, the snow team’s work continues—from clearing exit doors and drains, to creating better sightlines and widening sidewalks, to utilizing the university’s two snow melting machines.

Facilities is also responsible for Northeastern’s campuses in Nahant, Dedham, and Burlington.

Boulter praised the snow team members for their commitment. “We’ve got a tremendously dedicated snow team,” he said. “They do a great job. They leave their own homes and families to take care of the university family. They’re out there in inclement weather. I can’t say enough about the team.”

A Facilities crew member inspects a snowblower in preparation for a storm. Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The work of the Facilities crew is an essential cog in the university’s overall mobilization efforts during snowstorms. When storms are imminent, Boulter monitors the situation and sends out regular weather bulletins to designated staff in specific university units to help them plan accordingly. That includes determining everything from whether classes and campus events could be affected, to gym hours, to how athletics travel plans might be impacted. Many offices and departments across the university take their cues from these bulletins, which typically go out twice a day for several days ahead of a storm.

Brie McCormick, director of residential life, noted that Housing and ResLife staff members also work around the clock during snowstorms to ensure students’ needs are met.

“We don’t close,” McCormick said. That’s a sentiment shared by many staff members university-wide: while classes may be cancelled and some administrative offices may close, the university does not shut down during snowstorms. Rather, there are many essential services that must remain open and available.

This is perhaps most notably illustrated by Dining Services, where, similar to Facilities, senior staff monitor the situation days in advance to make the necessary preparations—from deciding which dining halls will remain open, to ensuring food deliveries and menu planning are completed, to scheduling enough staff to be on hand. Sometimes, that means management staff and others may come in early and secure overnight hotel accommodations.

“It’s a comprehensive effort,” said Debra Fantasia, marketing director for Northeastern University Dining. “No matter what, our students have to eat, so we will always have a team here.”

Not only are students fed, but Dining Services takes care of the university community as well. After a significant snowstorm last month, snow team members recharged after a long day’s work with a meal at Stetson East. “We make sure they get fed, too,” Fantasia said.

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