Penn Crews Were Ready for Hurricane Sandy

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Media Contact:Julie S. McWilliams | | 215-898-1422November 1, 2012

The University of Pennsylvania managed to escape the worst impact of Hurricane Sandy, but, regardless of what might have happened, Penn was ready.  

The University’s Crisis Management Team, chaired by Provost Vince Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli and comprised of senior administrators, met before the hurricane to assess the situation and determine the course of action the University would follow to ensure the safety and security of the Penn community.  Meanwhile, an operations group made up of about 75 representatives from the campus units necessary to provide services during a crisis -- including groups within Business Services, the Division of Public Safety and Facilities and Real Estate Services – gathered to coordinate the plans of action.

While the crisis team made the call Sunday morning to close the University on Monday and Tuesday Oct. 29-30, Public Safety began preparations even earlier. DPS expanded tours of duty for officers already scheduled to work and upped the staffing levels. The Division was then ready when word came down at 4:30 a.m. on Monday to open the Emergency Operations Center in the Public Safety building.

“We were beyond fully staffed,” said Maureen Rush, vice president for public safety, who oversees the emergency operations center. “Some stayed overnight to be sure they could be there for work the next day in rooms set aside at the Sheraton and Homewood Suites or on air mattresses in the Emergency Operations Center.”

Rush met often during the weather emergency with Anne Papageorge, vice president for facilities and real estate service, and Marie Witt, vice president for business services, at the operations center to coordinate the University’s services.

Penn Police, together with Allied Barton security officers, helped transport both University and Health System staff, as needed, to and from their homes or 30th Street Station. Business Services opened campus parking lots for staff who normally take public transportation to work.

 “We worked closely with the Health System,” said Rush, who brought her pet Bichon dog Stella along to keep everyone’s spirits up. “She was a little cheerleader.”

Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance, and Ed Datz, executive director of real estate, in FRES, said their staff had adequate time to prepare and take preventive measures such as clearing drains and window wells, fueling generators and sandbagging doorways of buildings that are prone to flooding.

On Monday Oct. 29, the day Hurricane Sandy swept through, the day-shift staff of about 350 tradesmen and housekeepers were on site “so we could take care of any issues immediately,” Ogawa said. About 50 more staff were added to that day’s second and third shifts.

“Also during the event, contractors voluntarily came in to make sure their construction projects were safe,” he said. 

Business Services’ offices of residential and hospitality services were also well prepared.  

“We made serious preparations Thursday and Friday, getting food in and moving supplies around,” said Doug Berger, executive director in charge of those two offices.

“We had 500 cases of bottled water at the ready,” said Pam Lampitt, director of business services overseeing hospitality services.

Berger and Lampitt were two of the 26 Business Services staff who remained on campus Sunday through Tuesday, including information desk staff in the residence halls and food-service managers who oversee the Bon Appetit Penn Dining operations. The all-you-care-to-eat dining facilities were open to students and those staff members who were on campus for the duration of the emergency.

“We were well prepared to offer bagged meals had the power gone out or if the storm had lasted longer, even prepared to take food to the students in the residence halls, if necessary” Lampitt said, “and we felt responsible to feed the essential staff who were on campus in addition to the students.”

John Eckman, director of business services in charge of residential services, is particularly proud of the building administrators and information-desk staff in the college houses who remained on campus.

“They checked drains and looked out for open windows to prevent flooding, everything to keep everyone safe and secure,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mike Fink, deputy chief of police in charge of tactical and emergency readiness, had high praise for the teamwork by the grounds staff. 

“When Public Safety told them there was a tree down on Walnut Street blocking two lanes, FRES had it cleared within 30 minutes,” Fink said.

The emergency ops center remained open until 3 p.m. on Tuesday.  

At that point, Fink said that the Crisis Management Team determined that the majority of issues had passed and it was safe for Penn to return to normal operations.

“What was great to see was the esprit de corps that occurred,” Rush said. “Everyone across the board would do anything to help one another. They all chipped in to do whatever it took to make this a safe event.  Also, the Crisis Management Team members communicated and made sure the messaging got out. That helped parents,” she said.

“We were lucky in the sense that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Ogawa said. “The forecasters did a good job and were pretty accurate. Sandy stayed on the timeline.”

The final assessment?  Penn was spared any extensive damage. There were damaged windows at the Van Pelt Library and at the Richard A Lab, a strip of flashing torn from Golkin Hall, a door blown out at Mayer Hall, a few downed trees and minor flooding.

“The safe and responsible coordination and cooperation by all of our on- and off-campus community members through this historic event was noticeable and appreciated,” Papageorge said.