Weathering Hurricane Sandy: Facilities’ Preparation Preserves the Campus

On October, 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck New York City and New Jersey, causing severe damage by flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and causing power outages for millions in and around the city.  The Columbia University Morningside campus and its community were impacted by falling debris, damaged trees, some roof and property damage and a brief malfunctioning of the campus' Powerhouse Chiller Plant.  As the hurricane hit, and most people anchored themselves at home, Facilities and other essential University employees rushed to campus to ensure its safety and preservation.

The night before the storm, the Emergency Management Operations Team (EMOT), convened to serve as the central team responsible for unified information sharing with the Columbia community and implement a coordinated response strategy.   EMOT is composed of senior leadership from across the University, with representation from administrative, public safety, and academic operations.

"The hardest part was preparing for the unknown. We knew we would face much rain and strong winds. We knew we could not underestimate its severity; essentially, prepared for the worst, but hoped for the best," said Joe Ienuso, Executive Vice President at Columbia University Facilities and Chair of EMOT.  "We started preparing well in advance and were able to respond effectively to situations throughout the storm and minimize damages to the campus and our construction sites.  Our investment in the preparation and precautionary measures truly paid-off." 

Prior to the storm, Capital Project Management, Operations and Manhattanville Development Group secured all of Columbia's project sites and scaffolding to minimize the dangers throughout the storm, including taking down all cranes at the Manhattanville Development.  The Facilities team faced the challenge of securing over 200 buildings on, or around, the University.  "We had to clear everything from the roofs to prevent them from flying off during the storm.  We tied down outdoor furniture, brought garbage cans indoors, cleaned out roof drains, and made sure all windows were closed," said Frank Martino, Vice President of Operations at CU Facilities.

Throughout the storm, Facilities and Public Safety patrolled campus checking for tree damages, water leaks, damaged windows, and responded to requests that came in through the Facilities Service Center.  "At times, Public Safety maintained safety of pedestrians by blocking off streets, while the Operations team cleared debris on damaged rooftops and fixed damaged roof cornices amidst the storm," said James McShane, Vice President for Public Safety. 

During the storm, the University constantly updated its preparedness website with information regarding cancellation of classes, gate closures on campus, schedule updates and suspended services for Columbia Transportation, Columbia Dining, Columbia Health, other building operations, and campus libraries.  Furthermore, the website reflected the statuses of city-wide transportation methods, including New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and carpooling opportunities, as well as closures or delays at airports, bridges and tunnels.

On Monday, November 26th, the University hosted an appreciation reception at the Roone Arledge Auditorium in Lerner Hall for Facilities' Essential Staff who worked throughout Hurricane Sandy, in which hundreds of CU Facilities employee s enjoyed complementary food and drinks. 

"While many people ran away from this emergency, Facilities personnel ran towards it" said John Coatsworth, Columbia University Provost said at the event.  "We were able to reopen the University within two days of the storm.  That is, undoubtedly, due to the hard work of all of you in the room.  For that, the University is very grateful."

Note: During an emergency, Essential Personnel provide services that relate directly to the health, safety, and welfare of the University, ensure continuity of key operations, and maintain and protect University properties.  Essential Personnel are expected to come to work in emergency situations unless they are specifically excused by their departments. All Facilities Services and Public Safety are deemed Essential Personnel. If you have any question whether your position is deemed essential please contact your supervisor.