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Unprecedented response

Memorial community storm efforts commendable and appreciated

Campus and Community

By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Memorial reopened on Monday, Jan. 27, after an extraordinary nine-day closure due to a record-breaking winter storm.

Significant effort and dedication of employees across the university ensured a safe opening, but the response effort started before the storm even began.

“Memorial is essentially a city within a city,” said Kent Decker, vice-president (administration and finance). “As the storm approached, a team across many units in St. John’s came together to ensure plans were in place.”

Memorial’s emergency operations centre engaged in advance of the storm to facilitate this planning.

State of emergency declared

As the storm closed in on the Avalon Peninsula region on the morning of Jan. 17, approximately 40 employees and contractors came to the St. John’s campus not knowing how long they’d be there.

Once the state of emergency (SOE) was declared, staff in units like Facilities Management, Campus Enforcement and Patrol (CEP) and Aramark, the Dining Hall service provider, hunkered down to live and work on campus for an indeterminate amount of time.

The effects of Snowmaggedon 2020.
Photo: Submitted

24-7 operations

Memorial University never really “closes.”

Approximately 1,200 students and 60 families live on campus, research projects are ongoing and essential services must be maintained.

“Our dedicated employees stepped up . . . and worked tirelessly and collaboratively.” — Kent Decker

During the closure, the university was committed to safe accommodations, student meals, payroll processing, information technology services, emergency responsiveness, research integrity and unprecedented snow clearing – just to name a few critical areas.

“Our dedicated employees stepped up to maintain critical operations during the storm, as well as the task of recovery and preparing to open our campus,” said Mr. Decker. “They worked tirelessly and collaboratively throughout the closure and we express our sincere gratitude for their efforts.”

Dedicated employees

There are numerous examples of Memorial employees going the extra mile during the storm and the SOE.

Memorial’s CEP officers went above and beyond during this time. Team 2 was on campus for 52 hours; two casual employees stayed for 72 hours.

During the first days when shift changes were allowed, officers were picked up at their residences and brought to work for 24-hour shifts and then driven home again.

The storm produced whiteout conditions and impassable routes and roadways.
Photo: Submitted

The main campus and the Health Sciences Centre are heated primarily by boilers housed in the Utilities Annex, where many of the building management systems are monitored as well. This operation is regularly staffed 24-7 in rotating 12-hour shifts, but as the storm closed in staff stayed on campus and remained on shift for 51 hours straight to ensure Memorial’s systems functioned properly.

In anticipation of potential power outages, electricians were brought on site as a precaution. Through the peak of the storm and beyond, the workers were called to emerging situations that threatened loss of heat for some buildings and other systems. They also remained on campus, pitching in where needed for the first 50-plus hours of the SOE.

Digging out

The snow clearing effort was a massive undertaking. Facilities Management grounds staff worked around the clock in the initial days to keep emergency exits operable and accessible during the storm.

This included service to the Health Sciences Centre and Janeway to keep them open and accessible. At the outset of the storm, eight grounds staff were on site. As it became evident their stay would be extended, the crew split into two groups that rotated from work to rest periods.

Once the storm was over, custodial staff came to campus to open up main entrances, clear away steps and ramps and the remaining emergency exits, which are in excess of 500 doors. Grounds staff were dedicated to ensuring safe streets and walkways.

shoveling snow
More than 500 doors were shovelled out during post-storm cleanup efforts thanks to dedicated staff members.
Photo: submitted

Snow filled the 10 kilometres of roadways that weave through the St. John’s campus, as well as the 15 kilometres of pathways that connect residences and buildings.

Additionally, 3,600 parking spaces required clearing before the university could reopen. The St. John’s campus alone required snow removal from 20 major sets of stairs and 83 fire hydrants.

Payroll officers returned to work on Thursday, Jan. 23, to ensure Memorial employees were paid on schedule. This effort required Information Technology Services staff in order for the payroll process to run smoothly outside of the system’s regular routine.

As well, animal care was a top priority and monitoring and care protocols were put in place throughout the closure.

The ITS service desk received in excess of 100 emails and calls, of which the vast majority were resolved remotely through the staff’s committed efforts. Additionally, ITS staff monitored Memorial’s IT infrastructure, websites, data centres and more so that all systems remained up and running.

This is just a selection of examples of the impressive and commendable efforts of the Memorial community to get the university back to regular operations. Every one of them is most appreciated.

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