University of Virginia Personnel Responded Well to Snowstorm

January 08, 2010

January 8, 2010 — Emergency crews at the University of Virginia worked around the clock to deal with December's storm that blanketed the area with nearly two feet of snow.

"The University responded incredibly well," said Marge Sidebottom, director of the University's Office of Emergency Preparedness. Sidebottom said the storm response cost the University $633,610.

Beginning when the snow started falling Dec. 18, Facilities Management set up rotating shifts around the clock to keep the snow cleared on University property. The Medical Center provided overnight accommodations to employees to stay in town and enlisted four-wheel drive vehicles to fetch other essential personnel.

"At times like this we see the very best in our employees – and one simply has to be very proud," said Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer. "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."

Many University departments planned ahead in anticipation of the storm.

"Early on Dec. 18, the Hospital Command Center started urging managers to get a sense of how many employees were scheduled to work Saturday and would need overnight accommodations and meal vouchers," said Megan Rowe, of the Health System's public relations office.

Medical Center facilities personnel shoveled throughout the night to keep Medical Center sidewalks, steps and walkways clear.

"Some employees stayed from Friday night until Monday," Rowe said. "Others who lived nearby came in when they weren't scheduled so that someone else could go home. It was amazing how everyone pitched in to help."

Facilities Management employees also came in when they were not scheduled.

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

As with the Medical Center, Facilities Management held people over in local hotels on Friday to work as the storm progressed. They worked 12-hour shifts from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. on the following Tuesday. Jay Klingel, director of business management services, said about 125 people worked Dec. 19, and about 150 each day on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21. Many of them were the same workers, but some were able to leave and others came in to relieve them. Tradesmen were also brought in to keep University sidewalks shoveled.

Despite the around-the-clock use, Landscape Supervisor Rich Hopkins said there were no mishaps with the snow-clearing machinery.

"Our equipment made it through in good shape," Hopkins said. "We had one mechanic who was able to come in and he kept tweaking and adjusting to keep the equipment running."

That mechanic, Bill Griffin, had to put chains on his truck tires to get through the snow and into work.

"On the University side, we kept plowing all night," Klingel said. "It was a weekend, most of the students were gone and that worked to our benefit."

Not all the students made it out before the storm hit, and the University housed them as well as stranded motorists at a shelter set up at the Aquatic & Fitness Center. Observatory Hill Dining Hall was opened to feed those who were stranded.

"We fed more than 200 people over two days," Sidebottom said. "We also had about 50 students who had to wait for flights or rides or to drive."

"We often conduct practice emergency exercises with the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, but this was an occasion to demonstrate in a real emergency how effectively the city, county, University, Red Cross and other local agencies work together in our community," Sandridge 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