MIT in the storm

Facilities and dining staff remain active around campus in storm

While students were out enjoying the snow, MIT employees were busy keeping the campus running. Though classes were canceled last Friday, hundreds of workers for Bon Appétit and facilities were hard at work. Due to the lack of transportation, many of them remained around campus on Friday night.


Dining services remained active on campus over the weekend, as Bon Appétit is contractually obligated to provide dining as long as it is reasonably able to do so, said Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo. “They have been wonderful in meeting their obligation,” he said.

Bon Appétit workers remained on campus during Nemo and also during Hurricane Sandy last October. “We worked with them to try to accommodate if there were staffing needs — people could stay on campus in apartments that were vacant,” said Colombo.

Bon Appétit put many of their staff in surrounding hotels as well, Colombo said, though he did not know which ones. It was “probably longer than a quick walk,” he said.

Friday’s meals went as usual, and brunch and dinner were served in the dining halls on Saturday, though the menu was limited.

Within the student center, LaVerde’s, Café Spice, and Subway stayed open for the entire weekend. Anna’s Taqueria, Cambridge Grill, and Dunkin’ Donuts were open on Friday, but they were unable to be staffed during the storm and were closed Saturday and Sunday. Much of the food in LaVerde’s was pre-made in order to compensate for the lack of cooking staff over the weekend, said Phil Walsh, director of Campus Activities Complex (CAC).

Additional personnel and workers

Dining workers were not the only staff on campus on Friday. Custodians, mechanics, service staff (people who set up rooms in the student center), and house managers are all considered “essential personnel” and were either on campus or in contact with MIT on Friday.

Desk workers, who are hired in many west campus dorms through the Professional Staffing Group (PSG), are not considered essential staff. Colombo said that in Next House the house manager asked students to man the desk during the blizzard since the normal contracted desk worker could not make it in. Two students ran the desk from 8 a.m. until midnight when Nightwatch took over.

Snow removal

Nemo dumped 24.7 inches of snow on MIT last weekend, most of which was promptly cleaned up by the MIT grounds crew once the blizzard ended. The entire MIT grounds staff was hard at work on Friday. Several teams were called in, including one to staff the Central Utilities Plant (CUP) and a core of maintenance personnel.

“The way we prioritized [clearing snow] was life-safety issues first (fire escapes, etc.),” said John DiFava, the director of facilities operations and security, “then, it became places that people would have to walk, and handicapped accessibility. And then parking lots, roadways. The fourth is snow removal and bicycle paths.”

With the announcement that the MBTA would cease service at 3:30 p.m. and with the road ban in effect by 4 p.m. last Friday, it was clear that the maintenance crews would be stuck at the Institute after work. “We used the dorms and residence halls, and got rooms in the various hotels” in the area explained DiFava.

“We were certainly ahead of Cambridge, that’s for sure,” chuckled DiFava regarding snow removal.

What happens when the Institute closes?

It is rare for MIT to close. In an interview with The Tech last week, Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 could not remember the last time the Institute closed twice in one academic year — and he’s been here for 38 years.

“The Institute closes when the government does,” said Colombo. Since the governor declared a state of emergency, MIT closed. Dining and the dorms always stay open when MIT closes, while DAPER usually does not.

“We don’t let events continue when the Institute closes,” said Walsh. This closure allows facilities to “secure Kresge and the Chapel,” though those venues do open to accommodate religious groups, as they did last Friday for the MIT Muslim service and for Hillel.

MIT started watching the weather on Monday and began preparation for Nemo then. During a monthly meeting last Wednesday, it was clear that the forecasts were increasingly ominous, said Walsh. Facilities listened in on a conference call about Massachusetts emergency management and motions with the Institute began. By Wednesday afternoon, MIT was reaching out to those holding events over the weekend asking them to reconsider their schedules. “There was plenty of panic in the media already, so a lot of people canceled their events early anyway,” said Walsh. “We didn’t cancel them until the Institute closed.”

In order to stay prepared, MIT has an Emergency Operations Center of which John DiFava is the head, and a number of DSL staff are involved with the center, which coordinates MIT’s emergency responses. “Basically MIT has a mechanism in place within a federal framework that all schools follow,” explained Walsh, “We’ve had this group in place for a number of years.”

Emergencies are disseminated to campus through MIT Alert and the campus emergency website

Bruno B. F. Faviero contributed reporting to this article.