University Employees Honored for Their Blizzard Response

March 17, 2010 — More than 400 University of Virginia Facilities Management employees were honored recently for the extensive work they did in response to several severe snowstorms that paralyzed much of the region for days.

Employees were presented commemorative "Blizzard Wizard" hats and complimented for their efforts by several high-ranking University officials. Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, was also presented with an "Honorary Snowplow Pass" and a resolution commending him for his efforts during the blizzards.

"It was an extraordinary winter, with many challenging conditions," said Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget. "A lot of these employees left their homes and their families to be here to respond to things as they developed."

Sheehy noted that this winter's 55 inches of snowfall broke the seasonal record, but closed the University for only one day.

"Given the conditions, I think the University was in better shape by far than many of the surrounding areas," Sheehy said.

"I think the employees did a terrific job," said Donald Sundgren, chief facilities officer. "It was difficult for them to get in, and many of them stayed over in town. That speaks to their dedication to their jobs. I am proud of all of them."

During the snowstorms, emergency crews worked around the clock to deal with the record snowfall.

"The University responded incredibly well," said Marge Sidebottom, director of the University's Office of Emergency Preparedness.

During the snowstorms, Facilities Management set up rotating shifts to keep the snow cleared on University property. The Medical Center provided overnight accommodations to employees and enlisted volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles to fetch essential personnel.

Edward Howell, vice president and chief executive officer of the Medical Center, praised Medical Center and facilities employees for overcoming the challenges of the weather.

"Each and every one of you helped ensure our mission of excellence in patient care was never jeopardized," he said. "As of March 1, we have cleared nearly 2 million square feet of snow. That equates to approximately 45 acres of snow. Interestingly enough, you could have created 464,504,334 four-inch snowballs, which when laid side by side could have gone 1.18 times around the Earth."

"At times like this we see the very best in our employees – and one simply has to be very proud," Sandridge said. "University Police worked tirelessly to assist persons impacted by the snow, and many others throughout the University were called upon to support key operations under very difficult weather conditions."

University departments planned ahead. Hospital managers estimated how many employees were scheduled to work during anticipated snows and arranged for overnight accommodations and meal vouchers.

Medical Center facilities personnel shoveled throughout the night to keep Medical Center sidewalks, steps and walkways clear. Some employees came in when they weren't scheduled so others could go home.

"We called in some people who were on leave, but this was a good time because the students were gone," Sundgren said after the first storm. "We focused on the Medical Center, for the patients, visitors and hospital personnel. We wanted to keep the sidewalks and the garages clear."

Jay Klingel, director of business management services for Facilities Management, said the Medical Center stayed open 24 hours a day, the University maintained nearly normal academic and business operations, and students and staff were able to access University facilities.

"You did this through hard work, sacrifice, long hours and good planning," Klingel said.
 
And it was not just the people plowing snow. Landscape supervisor Rich Hopkins praised the mechanics who kept the equipment running around-the-clock.

"On the University side, we kept plowing all night," Klingel said.

The snow clearing crews were greatly appreciated by the people they were serving.

"When I was plowing out faculty family housing on Copeley Road, when the people heard the snow plow coming they would come out and dig out their cars," Hopkins said. "And then they would bring out cookies and soda for me because they figured I had been working long hours."

— By Matt Kelly