FRES leads Penn’s battle versus the snow

Mother Nature has dropped mountains of snow on Penn’s campus over the last two winters, in all its frosty shapes and forms. Heavy, mushy, slush has fallen, along with light, fluffy flakes, freezing rain, flash snowstorms, thundersnow—the University has seen it all.

The Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) is responsible for clearing snow from Penn sidewalks, bridges, and walkways, and ensuring that the campus is accessible and safe.

Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance at FRES, says he and his staff begin prepping their snow response before winter even arrives, analyzing campus maps and divvying up assigned areas of responsibilities, and talking to customers to identify places of priority.

When winter commences and snowstorms move into the region, FRES receives daily weather reports and monitors the forecast in real-time in order to formulate a proper University response.

As a snowstorm approaches Penn, FRES staff pre-treat areas with salt or brine and stay abreast of conditions in order to make the necessary adjustments in their coverage plan. 

Depending on the size and timing of the storm, Ogawa says FRES, which is staffed 24/7, will utilize employees on duty, hold employees over, or call in additional personnel. He says they have, in the past, purchased hotel rooms for FRES staff to stay in overnight to make sure campus is clear in the morning.

FRES housekeepers are responsible for clearing the first 10 feet of a building, and FRES Urban Park staff clear all campus walkways and sidewalks, as well as Penn-owned roads.

Penn parking garages and open parking lots are cleared by Penn Parking in the Business Services Division, and city streets are cleared by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or the Philadelphia Streets Department.

Penn Medicine handles their own snow removal; Ogawa says FRES coordinates with the Health System, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the VA Medical Center, and Drexel to minimize the number of places that may not have coverage.

Retail establishments on campus are generally responsible for clearing the front of their businesses.

FRES uses everything at their disposal to remove snow from campus, including shovels, snow blowers, utility vehicles outfitted with snowplow attachments, and pickup trucks equipped with snowplow blades.

Ogawa says there is not much difference in preparing and responding to a snowstorm that falls on the weekend and one that occurs during a business day.

“Obviously, the focus on the weekends is the residential area, but even during the business week, that’s still a primary focus area,” he says. “The primary plan is to make sure we have at least one handicapped accessible entrance open to every building as quickly as possible.”

Each season is different, Ogawa says, with snowstorms of varying magnitude, and can be influenced by natural phenomena, such as how cold it stays after a storm passes.

“If it’s really cold and the snow stays around for weeks on end, that gives us a problem,” he says. “If it’s the light fluffy stuff and it blows, then that snow has to keep getting removed over and over again. Icing is also a problem. It’s a continual battle.”

Ogawa says FRES tries to clear all areas as quickly as they can, but if anyone sees an area that is slippery or needs to be salted, shoveled, or plowed, he or she should contact the FRES office at 215-898-7208 or through the FRES website.

FRES snow