The Business of Weather: HBS and Winter Readiness

Here is the latest installment of the Up Close series, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.

09 Jan 2020   Shona Simkin

At six o’clock in the morning after a snowstorm, many of us are just waking up. We’re checking our phones, making a cup of coffee, seeing if schools are open, and trying to anticipate the commute. At Harvard Business School, however, a crew has already been working for an hour—or perhaps even through the night—to ensure that once we arrive, the walk to our office is safe and snow-free.

It takes a lot of coordination, and a lot of work, to get those sidewalks safe. Planning for winter weather starts in October, with an equipment check and a series of meetings to ensure that everything is ready for the first storm. “We don’t want to jinx it by having meetings too early in the year,” laughs Meaghan Healey, assistant director of facilities, buildings, and grounds. She and two other Operations managers—Melissa Pierre, associate director of security and emergency management, and Nicole Messuri-Swan, associate director of custodial and fitness services—sit down to go over protocol, timing, and equipment to ensure that not a single detail is missed. Those details, from new apps for contacting emergency shift workers to taking inventory of gloves, boots, jackets, and shovels, are top of mind and key to a swift, safe response.

The first step is weather monitoring, which is surprisingly low-tech, says Healey. She scans all the same apps that many of us have, plus one shared by the Security team that accesses long-term forecasts and local traffic cameras. When a storm is imminent, the managers gather to coordinate a response and begin their near constant communication with Cambridge Landscaping (responsible for roadways and sidewalks) and C&W Services (responsible for building entries, landings, and steps). At 5 a.m. Cambridge Landscaping begins the initial clearing, followed an hour later by C&W. Parking lot clearings begin as early as 2 a.m. to make sure the early Restaurant Associates shift has parking.

Walkways are cleared first, with both larger plows and smaller loaders, then C&W arrives to shovel and spread ice melt on the stairs and entrances to the administrative, classroom, and Executive Education buildings, followed by dorms and the Dean’s house to reduce noisy (and early) wakings. Cambridge Landscaping also clears all of the sidewalks on North Harvard Avenue and the Anderson and Weeks bridges, to ensure the safety of Allston neighbors as well as the HBS community.

Even before the early morning team arrives, the overnight crew of security and Custodial Services personnel has been hard at work. In C&W’s team of 155 employees, 45 of them work overnight. “They are my lifesavers,” says Edgar Ventura, manager of custodial services at HBS. “They’re the people who are not noticeable by everybody but are heroes. They are here while we're all sleeping.” While that third shift is cleaning the bathrooms and classrooms and turning over rooms for Executive Education, they’re also evaluating whether they have enough staff for whatever the weather is delivering. “We do our best to anticipate, but if there's a sudden change or an unexpected storm or everything freezes, my third shift crew makes sure that there's a group who can cover all the areas, and calls me to say they need more people,” explains Ventura.

If it’s a particularly bad storm, HBS provides rooms, if available, so that essential workers taking on extra shifts are able to get some rest. Extended storm situations also call for food and warm drink breaks, which mean additional coordination with RA and Executive Education. “There are so many things to take into account—if there's an ExEd course and all the rooms are taken, or if there's a big event in Klarman that has RA fully staffed,” says Healey. “There are also a lot of variables for safety—if there have been other snow events that week, if it’s below freezing, how many hours the crews have worked. We consider all of that when we bring in additional help.”

Ventura, who has been working at HBS since 1989, has served in just about every capacity with C&W. That means that he can jump in to help wherever necessary, from removing trash from offices to grabbing a shovel and clearing the entrances. “We all work together,” he says. “We have to make sure that our teams are warm and safe, that they can perform their task, and that we provide the right equipment. We take pride in making sure that they're doing their job safely as well as making sure that the job is getting done well.”

That wealth of experience is invaluable. “Cambridge Landscaping has been with us since the ‘80s, and we have people in C&W who have been here for 30 years. It’s a well-oiled machine. We just say the word, and they’re off,” says Healey.


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