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February 18, 2010

Historic snowfall:

Impact in Pittsburgh

Impassable roads in many areas and lack of public transportation made for long commutes and filling in for colleagues who couldn’t get to campus made for long hours for those staffers who were able to reach their posts during last week’s closure.

Staff Association Council President Gwen Watkins commended the staff who helped maintain essential operations. “No doubt you are among the many unsung heroes during this critical and dangerous period,” she said.

Poor road conditions prevented several boiler operators at the Carrillo Street plant from getting to work. Other operators stepped in to cover double and triple shifts, with three operators working 20, 24 and 29 hours straight, said Chuck Turbanic of Facilities Management.

Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney said his officers worked extended shifts. “Those who could get here just stayed and slept here,” he said, noting that the heavy snow made for a quiet weekend. “The students stayed in,” he said.

The Pitt police have three four-wheel drive vehicles; motorcycle officers switched to cars during the heavy snowstorms, the chief said. The department copes with bad weather by breaking the campus into zones and keeping some vehicles on the upper campus, Delaney said, noting that surveillance cameras made response time faster by enabling the police to see which streets were passable during the storm.

Police also were kept busy locking down campus buildings in conjunction with the campus closings. Although roughly 85 percent of the Pittsburgh campus buildings can be locked electronically, some doors were hung up with snow and ice that forced officers to lock doors manually, Delaney said.

Officers also aided Facilities Management with short-term road closings designed to make snow removal on campus easier.

The biggest problem, Delaney noted, was fielding phone calls from employees inquiring whether they were essential. Those callers were advised to contact their supervisors for the information.

Jinx P. Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development, noted that the CSSD help desk’s 24/7 schedule was maintained even during the storms. Although several brief power interruptions occurred at the RIDC Park computing facility, backup systems kept the outages from impacting users.

However, staff who worked the Feb. 5 daytime shifts at the Network Operations Center and help desk remained at work for up to 21 hours to cover shifts until roads were passable enough for other staffers to relieve them.

Walton noted that the help desk experienced a 43 percent decrease in calls from Saturday, Feb. 6, until the University reopened on Feb. 11, compared to the same period the prior week.During the same period, however, contacts through the online problem report form doubled.

Taking snow removal to lofty heights, a contractor with a lift truck was called in on Wednesday to dislodge icicles and snow from Thackeray Hall and several other Pittsburgh campus buildings.

Taking snow removal to lofty heights, a contractor with a lift truck was called in on Wednesday to dislodge icicles and snow from Thackeray Hall and several other Pittsburgh campus buildings.

Athletics spokesperson E. J. Borghetti said some slight alterations to Pitt’s competition schedule were necessary, but three basketball games — one women’s, two men’s — went on, albeit with fewer fans.

Most dicey was the Georgetown game, but the opposing team managed to make it to Pittsburgh from snowbound Washington, D.C., for the Feb. 10 matchup.

Borghetti credited the athletics department’s facilities and operations division with performing “at heroic levels” in spite of the University closure and reduced staffing.  “We’re like the post office — We’ve got to get through. The ball’s got to bounce,” he said.

“Great cooperative efforts help everyone get through unique situations like this.”

A number of non-essential employees were able to work from home during the closings, even though the University’s policy does not require it.

For instance, Linda Howard of the College of General Studies said staffers took it upon themselves to spread the word to colleagues about the initial Pittsburgh campus closing.

“We learned that several staff members were without power but had cell service. We kept in contact with each other,” she said.

Howard noted that CGS staffers monitor their emails from home. “We were able to keep everyone in the loop and continue to keep the essentials running. Staff members within units spoke daily, all checking email and voice messages, responding to faculty and students concerns as necessary.”

With classes canceled, the offices of Residence Life and Student Life sprang into action to keep the Pittsburgh campus’s 7,000 resident students occupied. “Our RAs quickly pulled together as many fun activities as they could for our residents,” said Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Shawn Brooks. “We had snowman and Cathedral building contests, bowling at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, fitness classes and lots of games, including Twister and a pie-the-RA contest.It ended up being a lot of fun.”

Pitt students, including 24 RAs, also took time to serve the community. In conjunction with Pittsburgh City Council, the students gathered in the WQED studios to check on the well-being of senior citizens. The students called approximately 1,100 people to make sure they were okay. Some of the seniors needed medicine and other essentials.

The administration has announced that Pittsburgh campus classes missed on Feb. 8 can be made up on Saturday, March 27, and Feb. 9 classes can be made up April 17. Feb. 10 classes will not be made up. The Registrar’s office will work with instructors to make sure classrooms are available, John Fedele, associate director of  News, said. Professors may opt to make other arrangements to account for the missed classes and should inform their students this week of their plans, he said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow and Peter Hart

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