The flurry of blizzard predictions for Wednesday's weather was the kind of forecast that mobilizes Facilities Management to prepare the sidewalks for the worst of storms. Though the actual snowfall often falls far short of meteorologists' expectations, as in Wednesday's case, Facilities doesn't take any chances.
"We plan for the worst, and hope for the best," said Donna Butler, director of custodial services.
While it takes a substantial staff to clear the snow and ice on Brown's campus, the department is also responsible for neighboring streets and city sidewalks — a job it tackles with over a dozen plows, said Patrick Vetere, grounds superintendent.
About 50 Facilities staff members volunteer to be on call to help with preparations like salting or plowing, a group known as "Evergreen."
Sometimes "we have to have staff report in the middle of the night," said Carlos Fernandez, assistant vice president of facilities operations and engineering. "Through proper communication and planning, we are able to inform our staff (in advance). We try to be proactive."
Fernandez said the staff is very faithful — "they support Brown to the end."
This dedication is especially helpful for a job that often demands doing the same duties multiple times. According to Fernandez, it is not unusual for the salt that Facilities spreads on the sidewalk before a storm to be washed away by rain and melting snow, making it necessary that Facilities staff apply more.
"Safety is always a concern," Butler said, "whether students are on campus or not."
Even during winter break, she said, when the majority of students returns home, Facilities operates as it does when the University is in session, if only for the Providence residents who frequent the campus.
Fernandez said he and others on the Facilities staff feel a sense of personal responsibility when they hear about people injuring themselves on the ice.
The custodial staff also maintains areas around University buildings like the Rockefeller Library to protect them from the wear and tear caused by storms, though this is not required.
Vetere said his staff is always exploring new technology to aid in the clearing process. The newest salting product that Facilties uses is enhanced with magnesium chloride, which melts "ice at lower temperatures and is less damaging to plants and masonry."
Though the rapidly changing New England weather is a challenge, Fernandez said he has learned what to expect and how to improve Facilities' preparation for winter weather.
"After taking a few falls," he said with a smile, "you learn.