GW Gets to Work During Blizzard

Staff, students dig out, keep busy as Winter Storm Jonas arrives and departs.

George statue
Parts of the District of Columbia were hit by more than two feet of snow over the weekend. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
January 25, 2016

The snow kept falling—one foot, then two. By the time Winter Storm Jonas departed late Saturday night, up to 25 inches had fallen in parts of Washington, D.C. Some suburban areas, like Ashburn, Va., were buried in three feet of snow, enough to swallow entire cars in a blanket of snow.

It was one of the largest, strongest storms in recent memory, said Alicia Knight, senior associate vice president in the Division of Operations.

“This one was different from some of the ones we’ve had in the past,” she said. “It was long-lasting. We had consistent snow and a lot of impact to roadways.”

The 36-hour blizzard hit the region Friday afternoon and quickly chased residents to the safety of their homes. Roads became nearly impassable by Friday night. Metro suspended bus and rail service for the balance of the weekend and ran a very limited schedule Monday. Classes and activities at the George Washington University were canceled and many campus services were modified during the storm. Sunday afternoon, the university announced it would remain closed through Monday because of continued cleanup efforts.

On GW’s area campuses, hundreds of employees were hard at work performing those very activities.

“There are a whole lot of staff who have been working very hard for the last couple of days,” Ms. Knight said. “Our thanks to them cannot even begin to be expressed. They’ve done a tremendous job.”

Getting ready for the storm

More than 250 employees—in cleanup, safety, housekeeping and dining services, among other offices and departments—worked in shifts throughout the weekend and into Monday. Hundreds more, from offices under the purview of the executive vice president and treasurer—in finance, risk management, information technology and payroll—to the Division of External Relations, Human Resources and the Division of Student Affairs, worked from home to assist staff and students on campus.

It was a large, organized effort, Ms. Knight said. Much of it began before the storm hit.

“There are a lot of steps that go into this,” she said. “Making sure our employees are notified, that all our equipment is in working order, vehicles are fueled, equipment is fueled, that we have the right supplies. Snow shovels—I can’t count the number of snow shovels we have on campus right now. A lot of that preparation goes into an event like this, making sure the people coming in know where to park and that we have the appropriate cots for sleep accommodations.”

By the time Jonas settled over the region, preparation had already shifted into action. The men’s and women’s basketball games, originally scheduled for Friday night and Saturday afternoon, respectively, were moved up to a Friday afternoon doubleheader. Transportation, including all university shuttles and 4Ride, was suspended. Campus activities and classes beginning after noon Friday were canceled.

Digging out

Some buildings, like the Marvin Center, remained open throughout the storm. J Street, normally closed on the weekends, was open Saturday and Sunday to feed students and staff working on campus. Dining facilities in Shenkman Hall and on the Mount Vernon Campus remained open. GW Police Department officers were on site, working in 12-hour shifts. The university’s libraries reopened Sunday.

By Monday morning, all entrances and ADA ramps had been cleared on the Mount Vernon Campus, as were entrances to academic buildings in Foggy Bottom. All sidewalks, entrances and parking lots had been cleared at the Virginia Science and Technology Campus. Crews were working throughout the day to clear entrances to all other facilities and expected to finish by late afternoon.

“We have crews trying to create passageways,” Ms. Knight said. “It’s an orchestrated event where the management staff are responding and our grounds, housekeeping, maintenance, all of those contributing are working hard to remove snow so people can walk about our campus safely.”

Transportation, she said, has been affected most by the blizzard. Vern Express shuttle service between the Mount Vernon and Foggy Bottom campuses was restored at 4 p.m. Monday, running every 30 minutes. Due to road conditions, the pickup/drop location in Foggy Bottom was limited to Thurston Hall. Service was scheduled to run until 7 p.m.

Students keep busy

In residence halls, more than 7,000 people—including 113 student staff, 15 full-time staff and seven faculty-in-residence—are emerging from a rare long weekend out of the classroom.

“Saturday we did a coffeehouse-style event where we had hot chocolate, coffee, cookies and board games,” said Megan Blackwood, a resident adviser in Thurston Hall. “A lot of residents came down and played. A lot also have been going outside and enjoying the snow, going down to the monuments to take pictures.”

On Sunday, GW TRAiLS hosted a blizzard bash, complete with a snowman making contest. The Division of Student Affairs has been hosting events on the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses since Friday.

The mood has been upbeat, said Ms. Blackwood, a sophomore studying international affairs and political science.

“There’s some cabin fever, but it hasn’t been too bad,” she said. “People are happy to have a little break. They are sleeping, catching up on homework, hanging out with friends.”

There’s a desire to get back to the normal routine, she said. Her residents have been venturing outside Thurston to Whole Foods, CVS, Founding Farmers and Tonic. Most spent Monday as they would a normal Sunday—minus the football.

“Today has been a day for homework, clean the room, do laundry, stuff like that,” Ms. Blackwood said. “One of my residents was talking about how the snow days were great but getting back to the routine and getting back to classes will be nice.”