2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Braving the Elements

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Scenes from a Snowstorm

TC facilities, maintenance and public safety staff were on the case during the February 10th blizzard

Scenes from a Snowstorm

TC facilities, maintenance and public safety staff were on the case during the February 10th blizzard

As last week’s winter snowstorm approached, many prepared by stocking up on groceries, checking the candle and battery inventory and arranging for childcare in the face of school cancellations. But for a group of committed TC staff, responding to severe winter weather required far more than an hour’s worth of planning.
When the inclement weather reports started rolling in on Monday, February 8, administrators within the Finance and Administration area were fast on the case, already meeting to plan for additional staff presence on campus, as well as for the logistics of urban snow removal.
 
As reports from the National Weather Service and New York City’s Office of Emergency Management indicated a serious storm, Teachers College made the decision on Tuesday afternoon to close on Wednesday, following the lead of the city’s public school systems. To alert the TC community, a notice was sent out via TC Alert, the College’s emergency notification system. This marked the first time this system was used, giving 4,500 TC community members direct notice of the closing, by text or voicemail messages to cell phones or landline phones. (Note: to register for TC Alert please visit the MyTC Portal here: https://wind.columbia.edu/login?sendxml=1&destination=https://my.tc.columbia.edu/cp/home/login)
 
To prepare, Jim Mitchell, Assistant Vice President for Campus and Auxiliary Services, coordinated efforts between key emergency response areas within Public Safety; Facilities and Residential Services; and Dining Services. John DeAngelis, Director of Public Safety, Michael Gilmartin, Director of Facilities, Maddy Schiffer, Assistant Director for Residential Facilities and Mike Viola, Director of Dining Services each played a critical part in the campus’ response. The first step? Making sure there were enough staff to work for the next twenty-four hours, to ensure a smooth opening the following Thursday.
 
Several staff members stayed overnight Tuesday and Wednesday, thanks to the ability of Residential Services in securing available rooms. With overnight staff came the need for sustenance, so Dining Services also arranged to be on campus, to serve pizza, coffee and hot chocolate on Tuesday night, as well as breakfast on Wednesday morning.
 
“We had a full staff,” says DeAngelis, noting that all the staff members who worked received thanks from President Susan Fuhrman.
 
As other members of the TC community watched the storm develop from their homes, a number of TC staff were actively clearing sidewalks, removing ice from wheel chair ramps and fire hydrants and preparing for potential power outages.
 
Of TC’s dedicated staff, Mitchell says, “People were eager to come in and help under difficult circumstances—everyone went above and beyond.”
 
The TC response was a true team effort, with each and every staff person who came to campus demonstrating their dedication. In one such example, Aubrey Mason and Floyd Turner were the first responders, who came in to operate mechanized plows. Another employee, Jose Jimenez Bautista, a custodian in the Operations Department, offered up his personal vehicle to jumpstart a plow in the evening hours. Longtime employee Wavely Cannady made sure that he was here to operate the boiler room.
 
In the end, the coordinated efforts were a resounding success. Walking from the train that day, Gilmartin proudly noted how well-kept the sidewalks of the TC campus were.
 
Echoing the sentiments of his colleagues, Harvey Spector, Vice President for Finance and Administration, says, “Everybody did a great job. Their work was instrumental in allowing us to open the school safely without inconvenience to the greater TC community—that’s our top priority.”  
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