‘Closed’ Meant Longer Hours and Harder Days for Small but Essential Crew

Campus mall

Photograph by Todd Elia

‘Closed’ Meant Longer Hours, Harder Days
for Staffers on Campus in Recent Storms

The apartments in snow

Facilities employees cleared paths so students could get to the Dining Hall from the campus apartments. (Photo Courtesy of Todd Elia)


Student Services Building

Staff members from Student Affairs made sure campus residents knew they had access to hot meals. (Photo Courtesy of Todd Elia)

February 18, 2011

When a winter wallop of ice and snow forced campus closures earlier this month, sensitive technology escaped damage and students stayed warm and fed through the efforts of hundreds of staffers who stayed on the job and worked overtime to keep the campus running.

Trudging repeatedly through the slush was a crew of about 50 facilities employees who cleared paths so students could get to the Dining Hall from the apartments and Residence Hall, all of which stayed open throughout. 

Others fanned out across the ice-locked campus to make sure generators were topped off with diesel to keep power available to student rooms and temperature-sensitive research facilities.

The Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory (NSERL) was the site of the biggest emergency. Drain lines from air handlers on top of the building froze, causing water to back up and leak into a fourth-floor lab.  NSERL utilities supervisor Kevin Masten and employees Robert Atkins, Mark Worland and Kenneth Hooks ventured out on the nearly 6 inches of snow and ice on top of the building to make repairs.

The group made it down safely but wasn’t so lucky the next day.  Worland fractured three ribs and Atkins suffered a knee injury repairing a chiller that processes NSERL cooling water.

“The conditions around the building were really treacherous,” Masten said.  

Also nerve-wracking were the rolling blackouts that darkened the region’s power grid on Wednesday, Feb. 2, said Kelly Kinnard, director of the physical plant.

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“The blackouts were unannounced until shortly before they started,” Kinnard said. “Every time we were hit, it would last about 15 minutes and would be followed by us quickly resetting electronic systems.” Members of the Environmental Health and Safety staff helped by checking and re-checking building fire alarm systems and pitching in where needed.

Other staff that assisted during the closures included representatives from the Office of Emergency Management and officers from the University Police Department.

In Residential Life, staff members organized games and a pizza night to help keep cabin fever at bay for students living in University housing, said Matt Grief, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Staffers also made sure the snowbound residents knew hot food was available, Grief said.

The Residence Hall keeps a limited stock of nonperishable food items, such as granola bars and the like, but they were not needed since the Dining Hall stayed fully operational.  Employees worked longer shifts to help.

“The first day, 10 employees were able to make it in, and they stayed from 6 a.m. until about 8 p.m., working double shifts and feeding about 700 in all,” said Keith Foreman, director of dining services and representative for Chartwells, which provides food service at UT Dallas.

“The parents of our students are relying on us to feed their kids, regardless of the weather,” Foreman said. “It’s an important responsibility, particularly because students living in the Residence Hall don’t have the ability to cook hot meals.”

UT Dallas NSERL Employees

From left: Robert Atkins, Mark Worland, Kevin Masten and Kenneth Hooks braved the icy cold to repair a leak on the roof of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory. (Photo by Roxanne Minnish)

Hundreds of employees who could not make it to campus were able to work from far-flung home offices.

Information Resources kept the University’s core data systems functioning despite the rolling blackouts.

“We hit a record of 314 simultaneous remote network connections, and we had staff working both remotely and on-site who were helping to remediate the impact of the rolling power outage situation,” said Dr. Jim Gary, vice president for Information Resources.

There were isolated incidents of sprinkler pipes freezing in some apartment buildings, but overall, things went smoothly, Grief said.  “We used a lot of Facebook and door-to-door contact with residents to keep them informed, and it worked out very well.”

“How we responded to these weather anomalies is indicative of the spirit that is UT Dallas,” said Dr. Calvin Jamison, senior vice president for Business Affairs.  “The University is a family of employees who worked diligently as a team to make sure that sidewalks were passable and students were fed. 

“I had the chance to share a meal with some of our students,” Jamison said.  “Some were local and some were from other parts of the world, but all were appreciative of the efforts we took to make sure they were comfortable.”

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Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].