January 19, 2007
The snow was deep everywhere on campus after a major blizzard Jan. 10.
Photo by Silas Polkinghorne
The Jan. 10 blizzard that brought the city to a halt also prompted the U of S to cancel classes and send students and staff home early, the first time that has happened since an October snowstorm in 1984.
That day in 1984, city transit was stopped for most of the afternoon and students with four-wheel-drive vehicles provided rides to locations throughout the city, according to an article in The Sheaf. In this year’s storm, the decision to send staff and students home was made early enough that most people were able to make arrangements to leave, said David Hannah, associate vice-president student and enrolment services, who was involved with the blizzard response. But some were stranded on campus into the evening and others were storm-stayed overnight.
“It was a bit of a three-ring circus, but I think we did fairly well in responding,” said Hannah.
About 200 stranded people gathered for a hot dinner courtesy of Food Services at Marquis Hall, where a public address system was set up to provide information to people about various services.
Using the department’s single Jeep 4x4, Campus Safety provided a lift home to about 30 people who didn’t want to venture out on their own.
Residence staff, meanwhile, provided places to sleep in the residence lounges for 13 people, and rounded up blankets and pillows for 30-35 others who spent the night in the Vet Med, Agriculture, and Law buildings. Others stayed overnight in various student lounges on campus.
Early in the day, Campus Safety was tasked with stopping drivers before they exited campus onto Preston Avenue, where vehicles were becoming “instantly stuck,” said director Bob Ferguson.
Campus Safety dispatchers handled an “awesome number” of calls that day, and staff physically checked thousands of parked cars on campus. “We had to walk the (parking) lots and go vehicle to vehicle with flashlights to make there wasn’t anybody in a vehicle,” explained Ferguson.
He said FMD grounds staff were the real heroes of the day. Many stayed on after FMD shut down and lent a hand wherever they could, pushing cars out of the snow and helping with barricades. “I think the whole University came through,” said Ferguson.
No one was hurt on campus and the response will be even better if there is another blizzard, he added. “It’s a credit to the people who were here … We’ll be ready for the next one.”
Hannah said kudos should go to Campus Safety, the Residence office, Food Services, and University Communications. “To me, it was the spirit of goodwill that everybody showed that was the remarkable part of it.”
Nowell Seaman, University Emergency Measures Coordinator, noted the U of S emergency measures policy and plan was not activated during the blizzard, since it was not seen as a disaster, but an emergency management team was convened to respond. He said the storm was a "very good opportunity to observe what systems worked and what didn't."
Both cell phone and land line telephone services were down for periods of time on Jan. 10, so Seaman says the University needs to examine other communications systems and methods of disseminating information throughout the campus. The debriefing process, involving senior administration, deans, and others involved in the response, is ongoing.
Bicycles out of commission after the Jan. 10. blizzard.
Photo by Silas Polkinghorne