Anatomy of a Fairfield Snow Day
Despite the sound of it, a "snow day" is a busy day at Fairfield University.
With two such days in less than two weeks a group of Fairfield University employees have had their work cut out for them. Below is a snapshot of what goes on at the University when inclement weather rolls into town.
Public Safety: It all starts with the weather report. The University has a contract with a company called Hometown Forecasters that provides very specific weather alerts for the Fairfield campus.
“Although we start to monitor bad weather well in advance, they [Hometown Forecasters] can give us on the spot, very localized forecasts for the Fairfield campus,” said Todd Pelazza, Director of Public Safety. “We can also obtain forecasts for places our people are traveling to, just like we did this past weekend when the Ignatian Residential College went on a retreat to Litchfield.”
Another task of Public Safety is to plan to meet staffing requirements in the event of a storm. “We go through which staff can make it to campus and who can’t, and then find empty dorm rooms in case they have to stay the night,” said Pelazza. “We also have a room that can serve as a bunk room if need be.”
If it’s a blizzard or a hurricane, a member of Public Safety’s administration also stays on site. As for making the snow day call, it’s a collaborative decision involving leaders from Public Safety, Human Resources, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Facilities Management communicating with Mark Reed, Senior Vice President for Administration and Chief of Staff. “We have a conference call and need to make a decision no later than 6 a.m. to delay, close or remain open,” said Pelazza, who noted that criteria that goes into making the call includes the condition of the roads on campus and off, as well as the forecast for the rest of the day and class schedules. Michael Tortora, Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Administration, then issues an announcement on the Stag Alert system that goes out to the campus community by 6:30 a.m. The University’s Web Communications team posts any pertinent messages on Facebook and Twitter to further spread the word. The www.fairfield.edu home page and general phone number (203-254-4000) are also updated accordingly.
Facilities Management: Facilities Management makes a judgment call on when to start plowing. “We don’t have a standard rule on the amount of snow that must fall before the crew gets started,” said David Frassinelli, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management. “Our main priority is making the campus safe.”
The hope is to open on time and minimize the snow’s impact on academics, athletics and administration and the rest of operations at Fairfield. The 10 miles of sidewalks on campus are as important to take care of as the five miles of roads. Peter Crowley, Director of Facilities Management, oversees the ground crews’ operations, working in close communication with Public Safety, Human Resources, Academics and the administration. Depending on the size of a storm, the University sometimes needs an outsourced contractor to bring in additional trucks and workers to shovel. Dennis Quinones, Group Leader, Grounds, and Crowley have often stayed at Fairfield overnight to manage crews working to clear roads and spread salt to contend with ice.
As for which area of campus gets plowed first, it depends on a variety of factors, including whether the students, faculty and staff are on campus. If there is a public event at the Quick Center for the Arts, for example, crews will focus on parking lots, roads and sidewalks around it. “We keep a close eye on the forecast and what is happening all around the campus and go from there,” said Frassinelli.
Food Service: Another priority during weather events is feeding the students and employees who reside on campus. The major components about food service in preparing for bad weather are twofold: workers and food.
“Over the decades, we’ve been very fortunate to have such a dedicated Sodexo staff that somehow comes to work in all sorts of weather,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, Assistant Vice President of Administration and Student Affairs. “They are really remarkable! Concerning food itself, the main aspect is ordering ahead.” With the accuracy of weather forecasts over the past ten years, the University has been able to anticipate severe weather and arrange for food orders a few days in advance to be able to have adequate supplies on hand. Depending on the number of staff who are able to make it to campus, the top priority is staffing the Main Dining Room in the Barone Campus Center. After that location, the next priority is to man the Stag Snack Bar. “Our students are always friendly but somehow when they see the Sodexo workers here on a snow day, they always seem to go out of their way and say a kind word of appreciation knowing the effort they made to get to campus and serve them,” said Fitzpatrick.