University details snow response plans

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-News Editor

Last week, the city of Pittsburgh and its residents felt the effects of a major snowstorm that hit the city, Winter Storm Izzy. With more snow arriving on campus’ doorstep just this past weekend, Point Park has set protocols and is taking steps to prepare for harsh conditions for the next few months.

The effects of the storm were felt in Pittsburgh beginning late in the afternoon of January 16. Individuals and institutions within affected areas were forced to consider how they would prepare and respond to the snowfall – and Point Park was no exception.

“The university is always prepared for weather emergencies,” Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Paylo said. “We have an emergency/weather process and protocol in place that assigns responsibilities to individuals in relation to university operations. Through the processes and protocols, a number of individuals prepare for various scenarios related to emergencies and weather related emergencies at the university.”

Physical Plant Vice President of Operations Chris Hill detailed the specifics of how Point Park prepared for this storm in particular.

“[We] ​made sure we had sufficient ice melt, shovels, spreaders and squeegees,” Hill said. “Also we checked all spreaders and snow brush machines to make sure all were functioning properly. Finally, we made sure sufficient staffing was available during the periods of heaviest snowfall in order to maintain the sidewalks throughout campus.”

The snowfall began on January 16, and continued into the afternoon on January 17. Last week’s snowstorm did not necessitate any changes to scheduled classes, at least at a university-wide level. The effects of the storm were mitigated by the storm’s timing, as it hit the city during a holiday weekend.

The storm happened on the third Monday of January, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The annual holiday, which celebrates the life of the accomplished civil rights activist, is observed on the third Monday of every January to coincide with King’s birthday (January 15).

The holiday meant that classes had already been canceled, long before the storm arrived in Pittsburgh, keeping students and staff from needing to travel to campus that day. As a result, roads were able to be cleared relatively easily as a result of light traffic before students returned to school the next day.

This also allowed staff to ensure that the campus grounds were cleared in time for students walking to and from the various buildings on campus.

“The operations, physical plant and housekeeping staff do an amazing job in clearing our walkways for student safety,” Paylo said. “Their efforts should be recognized as they work tirelessly to keep our campus safe and accessible.”

Hill described these efforts in more detail, providing insight into the clean-up process after heavy snowfall.

“Clearing the snow from the sidewalks to either the curb line or against a building with the use of either a squeegee, shovel or snow brush machine followed by treating with ice melt,” Hill said. “Squeegees are typically used during light dustings to quickly clear while shovels and snow brush machines are used for the higher-accumulation snowfalls. Sometimes sidewalks are pretreated, especially when there is a concern of freezing rain at the start of a snow storm.”

Hill also explained how other contractors assist with snow removal.

“The university housekeeping contractor, ISS Facility Services, handles all sidewalk and park snow removal throughout campus,” Hill said. “A contractor by the name of Snow & Ice Management handles the snow removal in both the Student Center and West Penn Parking lots.”

The continuous snowfall left varying amounts of snow across the state of Pennsylvania, peaking at 11 inches in New Kensington and Beaver Falls, according to the National Weather Service via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Downtown Pittsburgh experienced five inches of snowfall.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) established travel restrictions during the snowstorm. PennDOT uses a numbered tier system from 1-5 in inclement weather scenarios, with each tier becoming increasingly more restrictive of the types of vehicles permitted on the road.

Last week’s storm incurred tier two and three restrictions in different parts of the state. Tier two barred vehicles such as motorcycles, school and commercial buses, passenger vehicles towing trailers, lightly or unloaded tractor trailers and motorhomes from the road. Tier three also bans most commercial vehicles, according to WTAJ. Additionally, speed limits were also reduced.

The restrictions, as well as the potential dangers presented by snowy and icy roads, left some commuters with concerns about traveling to campus for classes on January 18, including first-year screenwriting major Dawson White.

“It was definitely a concern of whether or not I could trust the road system enough to make it to school, let alone whether I would be able to park when I got there,” White said.

Commuters make up a majority of Point Park’s student body. According to the university’s official fact sheet, 877 undergraduate students lived on campus in the Fall 2020 semester, out of approximately 3,505 total enrolled students, or about 25 percent. Additionally, the school also employs over 1,000 faculty and staff, most of whom also live off-campus and commute.

The large student commuter population makes severe weather conditions a major concern for the university, as the school balances holding classes as scheduled with maintaining the safety of students.

“A thorough analysis of the weather-related occurrence takes place with each weather-related event,” Paylo said. “No two weather events are the same, and therefore all are evaluated independently. All weather events are taken very seriously and the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff are paramount.”

Paylo added that if the recent snowstorm had been more severe and made commuting to campus for scheduled classes potentially dangerous, Point Park would have considered alternative options. Additionally, in the event that classes are held as scheduled, he recommended that students still concerned about their ability to get to school safely should contact their professors to let them know.

“The university would have carried out the emergency/weather process that it has in place to determine the status of classes and university operations… Students should always communicate with their professors if they are not able to attend classes if they believe that their safety is in jeopardy,” Paylo said. “Whether or not this absence is excused is the discretion of the faculty member.”

Dean Paylo also emphasized that, while the recent storm did not necessitate extensive safety measures, Point Park prioritizes safety when determining how it will respond to each individual inclement weather event.

“Once again, the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff is paramount in these types of decisions,” he said. “These decisions are not taken lightly and a lot of work goes into the analysis and decision making process each time a weather event presents itself.”

Additionally, Hill encouraged students and faculty to report potential hazards on campus so that they can be dealt with.

“​If you see an unsafe condition following a snow event, such as an ice patch in a walking path, please report it to the Physical Plant or Public Safety so that it can be addressed ASAP.”

The Physical Plant can be contacted at 412-392-3490 or the 8th floor of Frontier Hall, and Public Safety can be reached at 412-392-3960 (or 2222 on any campus phone) as well as the 3rd floor of Frontier Hall.