Dear Faculty and Staff: As we prepare for the start of the spring semester, I am writing today to remind you of the University’s vaccine requirements and how we are supporting our employees in achieving a healthy and safe environment…
Behind the Scenes, Facilities Dispatchers Keep the Lights On (and the Pipes Working) at Syracuse University
There are not many jobs on the Syracuse University campus where the office cheat sheet includes items like “clogged toilet,” “hot office,” “broken garbage disposal” and “Quad event set-up.”
The list of potential mishaps is at least 10 pages long and growing, judging by the cramped handwriting in the margins of the pages. The minor calamities and major emergencies of a bustling campus make up the daily lives of the five Facilities Services dispatchers–Melissa Stocking, Vickie Crawford, Vernessa Honor, Laurie Poirier and Michele Grosso–who work out of a second-story office on Ainsley Drive. Poirier, the longest-tenured amongst them, has been at the University for 42 years and two are relative newbies, having been at the University for only a couple years.
Students, faculty and staff members all reach out to Facilities Services when something needs fixing. They call, email or submit a request through an online form. The dispatchers are on the receiving end of each request. Over the years, they’ve learned to be prepared to hear anything when they answer the phone–it could be just another request to raise a bed in a residence hall room (there were 160 of those in August 2021), or it could be that water is gushing from a broken pipe. A recent trip to their office to listen in on their work revealed the immense amount of behind-the-scenes labor it takes to keep the University running smoothly.
After a phone call from a staff member at Falk College, the radio dispatch goes out:
“Could you go to Falk and assist in the Dean’s office?”
On the other end of the radio call are a variety of workers, “trades” and “shops” in the lingo of the office. These are the University’s plumbers, electricians, HVAC staff and janitorial staff, dispatched across campus to address each problem in turn. It’s an operation that, very literally, keeps the lights on at the University.
Each request for service results in a work order, an entry in the Facilities tracking system directing the work of the tradespeople. The sound of the work order printer rarely ceases, as the orders “broken window, second-floor bathroom, Shaw Hall” “Blinking lights won’t stop – private dining, Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center” pour in through email, phone calls, and their online form.
“Squeaky door, could you hit that with some WD-40?”
Their work involves constant triage– vomit clean up in a fifth-floor bathroom is important, but it will take a back seat to a burst pipe, broken glass or anything that may cause harm to people or property.
This is what they find so difficult about their work–they want to be able to tell the voices on the other end of the line that their problem will be addressed quickly, but sometimes that is just not the case. Sometimes, chipped paint will have to wait a couple hours to be addressed.
“Not everything is an urgent situation,” says Eileen Simmons, operations manager for Facilities Services, who supervises the dispatchers. “Unfortunately, sometimes we have to tell staff or faculty that their issue falls behind a campus emergency, and we will get to their concern as quickly as possible.”
At any given time, there are only so many workers available to address issues, and several may be dispatched together to deal with a crisis. Meanwhile, the calls keep coming.
A slow month, in the summer after the majority of students have left for the year, might see around 1,000 calls to the office. In a busy month, like August 2021, that number will rise to over 2,500 calls, roughly 85 a day.
The joy in their work comes from knowing they’re making a difference on campus. Sometimes, they’ve even coached students through rudimentary life-skills courses, like the time Grosso spent 20 minutes on a call with a student, teaching her how to use a plunger.
“Sometimes I feel like a mother to these students,” she says. “This is what I would want someone to do for my child, so that’s how I feel about the students that call us.”
Advice for Calling Facilities Services to Report a Problem
The five staff members of the department collectively offer a few recommendations for making a report to Facilities Services. The best way to have your problem addressed quickly is by having the following information on hand:
- The name of the building where the issue occurred. This is a big problem on South Campus, where they frequently answer calls from students who may only know the name of the street they live on, but not the building number or apartment number.
- The room number or closest room number to the problem.
- Your full name
- The best phone/cell number to reach you
- Describe the problem in as much detail as possible
Call Facilities Services any time to report a problem at 315.443.1234. Requests can also be submitted through their website – just select the form that best meets your needs.