KUMC responds to winter storms

March 01, 2013

Doug Girod
Douglas Girod, M.D. Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs

I think it's safe to say this has been an unusual week for the University of Kansas Medical Center. I know closing the campus for four business days created a significant inconvenience for many of you. In making the decision, we considered the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors to be our No. 1 priority.

And while many of us were warm at home (except for the unfortunate folks who lost power), our colleagues in public safety, facilities, parking and landscaping and other departments demonstrated their professionalism, agility and dedication. I'd like to tell you a little about what happened on campus while we asked most of you to stay away.

Anticipating the disruption, staff in the payroll department submitted files to the Division of Accounts and Reports Office in Topeka early so that we all would get paid as scheduled on March 1.

Police Chief Rick Johnson spent last Wednesday night watching weather forecasts. Some people might have been surprised when Vice Chancellor for Administration Steffani Webb decided to close the campus at 5 a.m. on Thursday, with no snow on the ground. But they made the right call, and snow piled up quickly throughout the day.

It took parking and landscaping crews nearly four days to clean up from that first storm. Having worked around the clock, they finished at 8 p.m. Monday - just in time for the second storm. By then, a dozen of our coworkers had spent four nights on cots in a big aluminum building behind the Support Services building, which served as the operations center. Knowing they were in for a long haul, on Sunday night Steffani brought them home-cooked chicken and noodles, along with cookies and a trunk load of supplies from Sam's Club: beef jerky, peanut butter and jelly, loaves of bread, nuts, and Little Debbie snack cakes. Among the other challenges: trying to figure out how to keep their clothes dry.

This crew, along with contractors we hired to assist, worked 1,000 man-hours starting on Monday night. They weren't just clearing snow - one mechanic stayed busy repairing equipment that kept malfunctioning because the snow was so wet and heavy. And the snow wasn't actually removed - it was piled into enormous mounds at the edges of lots, which presents another problem. Not only do these mountains of snow take up valuable parking spaces, if we leave them alone they will thaw and refreeze in the weeks ahead, resulting in dangerous ice and other problems. So now we have brought in equipment to transfer the snow to dump trucks so it can be hauled away.

Campus buildings were not immune to the problems that left people throughout the metro without power. In several buildings, power surges throughout the day required constant monitoring and maintenance.

Amidst all of that, we also managed to fulfill our No. 1 mission: educating students. The medical center's physical campus might have been closed but Teaching & Learning Technologies' virtual campus was not. Staff there saw an increase in instructors posting course materials in ANGEL and JayDocs, recording lectures with Camtasia Relay, and holding synchronous class meetings in Adobe Connect. One class even met in Second Life, our 3D virtual world.

We kept one staffer on duty at Kirmayer Fitness Center so people could sleep there if they wanted to (a few people did), and so that hospital employees could shower between long shifts.

Meanwhile, our colleagues at The University of Kansas Hospital cared for more than 500 inpatients and performed 36 surgeries, including a live donor kidney transplant, cancer brain surgery for a patient who had flown in from Liberal, Kan., and a variety of cancer chemotherapy treatments. They should be very proud of their work under extremely difficult circumstances.

All of this isn't just to recognize everyone who performed beautifully and went above-and-beyond the call of duty - though we are deeply grateful for those efforts, and there are many more I could mention as well. But we also learned some lessons about aspects of our emergency planning that could be refined.

We have a perfect opportunity to do that next Tuesday, when we have a campus-wide tornado drill for 15 minutes starting at 1:30 p.m. This annual ritual may have become a springtime cliché in the Midwest, but failing to prepare for predictable emergencies is inexcusable (and not particularly smart). Moreover, preparing for predictable emergencies makes us better at dealing with unexpected emergencies. Please give this drill your full attention on Tuesday.

More information about weather and emergency preparedness can be found on our Emergency Management department's website.

Thank you again for your patience during the extraordinary events of this past week. And please join me in thanking our colleagues in public safety and facilities.

Last modified: Mar 01, 2013