Many departments coordinated during storm to keep Yale community safe

After several days of preparation for Hurricane Sandy, the University activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Monday morning to oversee the University's response to the major storm.

Vice President Linda K. Lorimer leads the University's response to emergencies and oversaw the EOC. “I’m extraordinarily grateful for the herculean efforts of so many staff who rallied first to help with hurricane preparations and then persevered throughout the night,” she said. Lorimer commended particularly Maria Bouffard, Yale’s director of emergency management. Bouffard had assembled a large team of staff from all units of the University at the EOC, which was located at the Yale Police Department. Other officials who were at the center throughout the day were Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, Chief of Police Ronnell Higgins, and Associate Vice Presidents Janet Lindner and Martha Highsmith. Provost Peter Salovey came to the EOC to lead discussions involving academic units.  

“Our team has been working together for a long time, planning and preparing to respond to emergencies on campus, and this is our first official activation,” Bouffard said. “Our primary goal is to ensure that we all maintain a common picture of the situation, that we are coordinating and problem-solving together, and that we are doing what we can to protect the Yale community.”

The team was in charge of all aspects of emergency operations during the day, and issued a series of directives while consulting widely around the University with President Richard C. Levin and others, including the deans of the various schools. The main directive Monday was the decision to cancel classes for a second day (Tuesday, Oct. 30) and allow non-essential staff to remain home.

Bouffard and her team posted updated storm forecasts on Yale’s Emergency Management website during the day, as well as the messages from Lorimer and others that went out to the community via email and text message.

One message from Lorimer to students read, in part, “I just heard that there may be a set of you who got stranded in New York City when trying to return to campus last night — and are ‘stuck’ there for tonight and until such time as the trains resume. I am happy to report that the Yale Club of New York City has graciously agreed to supply you guest passes for the next day (or two if necessary) if you do not have other means of housing.”

Yale units with representatives at the EOC included Human Resources, Dining, Yale College, Facilities, Police, Security, Environmental Health and Safety, Procurement, Risk Management, ITS and the Registrar.

One of the potential storm problems was flooding, which is the responsibility of Facilities to prevent and address.

“In advance of the storm, we put out sandbags in the areas that had been prone to some recent flooding,” said Roger Goode, director of facilities services. “The next piece is vigilance. We have the grounds folks going around to make sure the drains are kept clear.”

Goode, who noted that Yale’s custodial staffers were the “best eyes and ears out there” for spotting potential flood problems, said the University would employ pumps and wet vacuums as needed, and was using special lightweight sandbags indoors that expand as they absorb large amounts of floodwater.

During the day, Bouffard conducted conference calls that included the leadership of various University functions. University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said members of the community whose health appointments had to be cancelled would be rescheduled as soon as possible if their health needs made it a priority.

Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale Dining, reported that all Yale College freshmen living on Old Campus, as well as upperclassmen who live in annexes, were able to pick up two full days of meals the night before so they could eat in their residences and would not have to go outside during the height of the storm. The residential college dining halls were remaining open during the storm.

“Food, as you know, is comforting,” Taherian said. “It keeps people calm and relaxed.”

Robert Klein, deputy director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, was in the EOC, and Peter Reinhardt, the office’s director, joined the regular conference calls.

“Our office is working to support the hurricane preparedness and response by insuring that high-hazard facilities on campus are either locked down or in moth-ball status, and that research laboratories have constricted their work to absolutely essential activities until after the storm is over,” Klein said. “We will be assisting facilities and security in inspections before laboratories return to service and return to use after the storm.”

Higgins said Yale police officers were deployed in strategic spots around the University and were ready to respond to any incident or emergency. Yale’s security staff was in the same state of readiness.

As the storm moved in during the day and the winds spiked, bringing down trees and power lines, a message from Lorimer began emphatically, “PLEASE STAY INDOORS.”