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September 25, 2017   Columns Articles | Inside UGA | Unit-based teams keep university operational during…
Magnify Tropical Storm Irma cleanup 2017-environmental.h
Workers clear debris around campus after Tropical Storm Irma. Photo by Andrew Tucker

Unit-based teams keep university operational during weather closing


During times of inclement weather and other campus closures, many university employees step up to keep essential services running.

That held true earlier this month when UGA closed for two days after Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for all of Georgia's 159 counties due to Tropical Storm Irma, which damaged trees and caused power outages across the state—including on the UGA campus and throughout Athens-Clarke County. Several UGA units went above and beyond their normal duties to keep the university operational during the closing.

"I am grateful to the many ­employees of the University of Georgia who worked tirelessly, in challenging conditions, to protect our campuses and restore normal operations soon after the storm passed," said President Jere W. Morehead. "On behalf of our faculty, staff and students, I want to thank these individuals for their hard work and dedication."

UGA employees began preparing for the storm even before the Sept. 9 announcement that the university would be closed due to the pending impact of Irma, which was wreaking havoc in Florida as a category 4 hurricane at the time.

Finance & Administration
The UGA Office of Emergency Preparedness activated the campus Emergency Operations Center early Sept. 11 in coordination with various campus departments to monitor the weather, provide and receive ­information updates, coordinate with local and state officials and organize and manage storm-related issues.

"We have really good relationships within the university and Athens-Clarke County, which helped in coordinating a more efficient response to Tropical Storm Irma. Not only were we working on the Athens campus storm-related issues, we were in contact with other UGA properties around the state that were impacted by the storm to assist where needed," said Steve Harris, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness. "As with any event, we plan to collaborate with our campus and local partners to see where we can improve our response efforts to be better prepared for the next emergency."

All hands were on deck at the UGA Police Department, which canceled all police personnel off-days, leaves and training sessions in preparation for the storm. Officers patrolled the campus, assisted with the removal of debris and downed trees and checked building alarms resulting from structural damage. Many officers worked their normal schedules and were required to work extra hours to ensure campus was safe.

The majority of full-time dining team members were on campus to staff the dining halls. All five of the dining commons stayed open each day. Since all retail locations are closed when the university is closed, the retail team provided extra assistance to the dining halls during the inclement weather.

In addition to serving students, the commissary and Campus Catering teams provided complimentary meals to staff working in the Emergency Operations Center. Central Food Storage kept the dining halls stocked with groceries and came to the aid of the Niche during the power outage by picking up perishable items and transporting them to the warehouse for freezer and cooler storage until power was restored. Campus Eateries and Campus Catering sent the Niche canned soft drinks, hot coffee, bottled water and prepackaged snack items to serve while the power was out. Snelling sent prepared sandwiches, pastries and cookies. Bolton welcomed and fed numerous staff members from the Facilities Management Division.

The Services Department prepared early for flood situations. Approximately 100 grounds department staff worked during the storm, giving priority to making sure parking lots, walkways and paths between residence and dining halls were clear. The operations and maintenance had about 25 people available to respond to power outages and drainage concerns.

The payroll team and Administrative Information Systems worked to ensure payroll was processed early so payroll checks would be issued in a timely manner. Finance & Administration IT staff also came in to check on servers and systems to ensure staff could access electronic resources. Risk management and insurance representatives stood by throughout the storm to provide support and will continue to evaluate and support repair needs.

Division of Student Affairs
While residence halls remained opened, all campus events and activities were canceled. Staff in the Division of Student Affairs handled the operational logistics in both areas.

Residential Programs and Services reviewed inclement weather procedures with staff and residents and ensured they had supplies on hand to address water-related issues. Housing facilities staff inspected each residence hall for building integrity and possible debris. Senior/area coordinators were in communication with the staff from their areas, relaying information about issues that were occurring and sharing information with staff about university and community response efforts.

Housing Facilities added on-call staff to be on campus during the storm. Five additional Housing maintenance staff arrived at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 and spent the night on campus in the residence halls and at the University Village administration building. Live-in staff also were present in every residence hall.

According to the Tate Student Center's Office of Campus Reservations, Events and Technical Services, close to 400 activities were canceled due to the university's closing. The office is currently working with individual organizations to reschedule activities affected by the weather.

"The safety and well-being of our students is of primary importance, and this was yet another example of Student Affairs staff making every effort to ensure our students are safe and supported. I'm so grateful to have a team so committed to our students," said Victor K. Wilson, vice president for student affairs.

Enterprise Information Technology Services
The Enterprise Information Technology Services data center remained staffed, and workers monitored IT services throughout the storm. A crisis center was maintained by EITS leadership between 7 a.m. Sept. 11 and 1 p.m. Sept. 13. Throughout Sept. 11 and 12, the department remained in close contact with the Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Emergency Operations Center.

Public Service and Outreach
UGA Public Service and Outreach units stepped up to provide lodging, food, water and other supplies for families in need.

The Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel provided a home-away-from-home for evacuees as well as some local students and residents who needed temporary shelter. Hotel staff brought in games and toys to keep the several dozen children at the hotel entertained during their stay.

The hotel also housed employees who worked at the hotel during the storm so that they would not risk their safety driving to and from campus.

The hotel originally was fully booked for a conference from Sept. 10-13. When conference organizers canceled Sept. 9, Georgia Center employees quickly reached out through social media to let displaced families know that rooms were available even though most Athens area hotels were already full.

"I am proud that our Public Service and Outreach units came forward to help people who needed shelter, food and water during the storm," said Laura Meadows, interim vice president for Public Service and Outreach at UGA. "I am also gratified that we have a community that is willing to step in and help when emergencies arise."

Campus Kitchen at UGA
UGA students involved in Campus Kitchen launched a special operation the weekend of Sept. 9-10 to provide food to clients who were at risk of being stranded by the weather without sufficient food.
Of the 40 families regularly served by Campus Kitchen, 17 families (38 people, half of them children) were identified as needing non-perishable food and clean drinking water. Students and staff used social media to solicit supplies, which they collected and distributed the afternoon of Sept. 10.

Donations came from Campus View Church of Christ, residents in the Five Points neighborhood of Athens and UGA students. Campus Kitchen volunteers delivered enough water, cans of fruits, proteins and vegetables to the families to last two days. They also distributed flashlights and can openers.

Campus Kitchen is run through the Office of Service-Learning, which reports jointly to the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and the Vice President for Instruction. Campus Kitchen provides weekly meals to older adults in the Athens area, including grandparents raising grandchildren and Meals on Wheels participants.

Veterinary Teaching Hospital
More than 60 clinicians, veterinary technicians, staff and students made their way to campus Sept. 11 and 12 to work in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's 24-hour emergency services center, which lost power for five hours Sept. 11.

"We had several of our veterinary technicians who work in our emergency, intensive care and intermediate care services who came in early for their shifts," said Cindy Rice, the hospital's communications director.
Some staff members who weren't scheduled to work came in to lend a helping hand.

Hospital staff treated animals that already were checked in before the storm swept through Athens and saw pets whose owners brought them in for emergency care. Some team members also came in to call pet owners and reschedule their appointments. Others providing research and teaching animal care also were called into service.


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