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What It Takes: Snow Removal

From Taking 12-hour Shifts to Hand-Chipping Ice, Landscape Services Staff Leads Efforts to Clear 1,350-acre Campus

By Karen Shih ’09

Snow removal vehicle on McKeldin Mall

From blizzards to ice storms to slushy mixes, Facility Management's Landscape Services team is ready to tackle all types of wintry weather, ensuring that the campus is safe and accessible for the UMD community.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Editor’s Note: Today we launch a monthly series that looks behind the scenes at “what it takes” to keep the University of Maryland humming and create a vibrant campus experience. Got an idea for a future installment? Email kshih@umd.edu.

Predictions of wintry weather don’t just mean pants for the last shorts-wearing holdouts, snowball fights on McKeldin Mall and laundry baskets becoming makeshift sleds.

For the University of Maryland’s Landscape Services team, the forecast calls for busy days and nights ahead to clear 23 miles of sidewalks, 13 miles of roads and all the parking lots—essential to keeping the community safe and the university’s facilities open.

Storm prep starts in August; it requires stockpiling tons of ice melt and rock salt and organizing hundreds of employees in Facilities Management and Residential Facilities, plus contractors, in a first responder-like effort, complete with a “command center.”

Maryland Today spoke to Associate Director Bill Monan, who leads snow removal across the 1,300-acre campus, and horticulturist Darrick Davis, who lays aside the pruning shears to head one of five vehicle-mounted “strike teams” when the weather turns hazardous, to learn what it takes to clear snow and ice from the campus.

Monan: When there’s snow in the forecast, every single person in my department is essential, down to the administrative assistants. We work 12-hour shifts, and we work 24/7 until the job is done. Depending on the storm, I may set up hotel rooms so people don’t have to travel in the storm and can get a chance to sleep.

I work with the provost and president's office to make decisions about snow emergencies, accounting for the impact of severe weather on campus as well as the broader region.

Davis: To prepare for snow, we ensure the tractors, small machinery and plow trucks are running and that there are no mechanical problems. About five or six hours before the storm starts, we’ll have contractors start pretreating steps, handicap ramps, making sure people can safely get in and out of buildings. We’ll also pretreat roads.

Monan: We start plowing when we get over an inch. The idea is to keep going continuously so it doesn’t build up. We prioritize the roads to make sure emergency vehicles can get here, as well as the 24/7 facilities here on campus, such as IT, animal research, as well as dining halls and residence halls if students are here.

Davis: Each (strike) team has guys in vehicles and doing hand shoveling and treatment. The brick pavers get very icy, and the north sides of buildings freeze up a lot more than other sides. Freezing rain or ice is when things get scary—we have to constantly be clearing and brushing to get down to the pavement.

Monan: We have a command center room. On the big screen, we display a program called Snow Command, developed by our own people, with an interactive map of campus, layered GPS of all the roads, sidewalks and buildings, with everybody in the field. Once a strike team commander like Darrick finishes an area and reports back, we start changing the colors so we can see what’s been plowed and what still needs to be done.

Davis: If students are on campus, we ask that they be very aware of the plows and trucks on the roads and sidewalks as the snow is falling because visibility can be a challenge and the vehicles can’t stop quickly.

Night shifts are hard. It’s colder, and our goals are just to keep the primary sidewalks and roads clear for emergency vehicles. Safety is first and foremost. We make sure everybody is issued the appropriate gear, and we move people around so they can warm up.

Monan: Our average is about five storms a year. Even last year, when people thought it was an easy year, we were here for seven nights. In 2010, we had three storms in three consecutive weeks. We worked for 23 days and nights straight. At one point we had 60 inches of snow piled up in certain places, and we had to find places we could dump snow. We had cars totally buried, and bike racks disappeared because we couldn’t see them and plowed them.

Davis: I remember in 1996, when we had the big ice storm, we ran around with digging bars trying to chip the ice on the sidewalk. When the temperature gets low enough, the rock salt won’t melt the ice. We had to close school for a week.

Monan: I call us “the shovelers of coal,” who keep the furnace going at night but nobody sees it. My staff is dedicated to this campus and community. Everyone pitches in. I’ve even run plow trucks myself.

Davis: If I see a handicap ramp that needs to be cleared, I’m out of the truck, throwing some deicer on it and clearing it.

Monan: One way people can help us is by calling to let us know when important entrances and exits are covered. That way, we can keep track and send someone out there.

Davis: When the last bit of snow melts in March or April, that’s when we breathe a sigh of relief.

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Facilities Management

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