Students (and Yale officials) thank staff for helping campus weather the blizzard

Yale College students baked over 1,000 cookies and wrote over 700 thank you notes, delivering them to essential services staff members across campus on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

What the students were grateful for was the tireless effort shown by hundreds of staff members, who kept the campus operating safely as the recent blizzard blanketed New Haven with three feet of snow. 

In an email, one student expressed her gratitude this way: “Just wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to Yale Dining … The food has been great throughout the blizzard. Thank you so much. I'm so impressed.”

During any event that potentially threatens the campus, a core group of staff come together to form the Emergency Operations Team (EOT) —  representing such services as emergency management, dining, facilities, police, security, Yale Health; Yale Medical Group, human resources, business operations, communications, risk management, transportation, and graduate housing.

During the blizzard, just as it did during Hurricane Sandy, the EOT held frequent conference calls to coordinate logistics and give status updates — before, during, and after the storm. However, coping with the aftermath of winter storm Nemo required far greater effort than it did during the hurricane due to the sheer volume of snow, which virtually stopped travel throughout the state.

During and after the storm, the city worked to clear as many main arteries as possible before plowing secondary roads. The Yale Shuttle could not operate from Friday (when the blizzard began) through Tuesday, and most staff members were asked to stay home for safety reasons during this time.

“This was an immense snowstorm,” says Maria Bouffard, director of Yale’s Emergency Management program. “There were many heroics, and people went above and beyond on so many occasions. We were able to maintain essential services thanks to so many people, some of whom stayed on campus for several days and nights.”

A priority for the campus was caring for the resident student population. Throughout the weekend, Yale Dining managed to keep its dining facilities running, by adjusting its hours of operation and menus. As in other essential service areas, many dining staff stayed on campus for several days and nights, without returning home. Others walked miles to get to work or got up before dawn to shovel out their vehicles so they could drive to campus. The Yale Dining administrative staff braved the piles of snow to transport staff to and from campus. In addition, the Yale College Dean’s Office staff offered to assist with lunch in Commons on Monday, cranking out French fries and flipping burgers.  Masters and associate masters in several colleges helped at the front desk and set up serveries on Saturday.

Despite the shortage of staff, Yale Dining managed to serve over 3,800 meals during each dining period throughout the weekend. As supplies of disposable plates and utensils started to deplete, several Yale College students helped by washing plates and utensils — enabling Dining staff to start preparing the next meal more quickly.

“If one day I have a grandchild, I will have a great story about Nemo,” jokes Yale Dining executive director Rafi Taherian. “I am truly proud of our team’s achievements. Never in my career have I seen so few people preparing and serving so many meals.  I walked in a dining area and noticed the master and the associate master moving food from the cooler and setting up the service area. I knew then that we would be all right.  It was truly ‘all hands on deck.’”

Yale Facilities played an essential role by clearing access to the dining halls for staff and students, as well as areas for food delivery and garbage pick-up. On Monday, as Yale Dining became more dependent on previously scheduled food deliveries to replenish their stock, the Facilities department managed to clear Rose Walk between Berkeley and Trumbull colleges and other delivery points to enable deliveries — a feat accomplished without blocking any New Haven traffic on the partially plowed roads.

Clearing three feet of snow from most walkways, roofs, and entrances on campus was clearly an exhausting challenge.

“The Facilities staff all across the campus were simply amazing,” says Roger Goode, director of facilities operations. “From manning the utilities plants, responding to alarm calls  — thankfully, there were only a few — providing vigilant attention to snow loads on roofs and garages,, and especially continuously clearing the snow and ice, sometimes a dozen or more times in the exact same places, they were taken on with enthusiasm and frequently with smiles. There were just so many people doing great work.”

Yale Security and Police department staff members were also instrumental in helping the campus during the blizzard, many times driving through treacherous conditions to deliver staff safely to the closest cleared drop-off point, at times a tricky task considering many secondary roads remained unplowed.

“Police and security officers escorted essential staff in their four–by-four vehicles, many to Yale Health and the hospital. One security officer drove a doctor from his home — at the closest possible pick-up point — to Yale-New Haven Hospital to deliver a baby,” says Bouffard. “YPD transported a student who had twisted his ankle to the hospital. On Saturday morning, a security officer assisted a student in a wheelchair from a lab. There are so many stories.”

To ensure adequate coverage for patients, roughly 90 Yale Health staff members worked throughout the storm — some staying in the Yale Health Center for three straight days, sleeping in eight-hour shifts. Clinicians, nurses, and medical assistants from the primary care departments, which had closed during the blizzard, came in to provide support to the Acute Care and Inpatient Care units, which both remained open 24 hours a day throughout the storm. Pharmacy staff filled over 1,000 prescriptions on Monday and Tuesday. Yale Health clinicians and nurses also made rounds to care for members at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“The staff who worked on these days really took care of our patients,” says Judith Madeux, deputy director of Yale Health. “There was a strong core group of nurse leadership who banded together to make this happen.

Similar coordination efforts were going on in the clinical practices of the Yale Medical Group and the School of Medicine, and at the Yale Animal Resource Center.

In addition to the scores of dedicated staff, the City of New Haven played a vital role in ensuring the campus managed through the storm, says Bouffard. “We have great coordination with the city. But this storm was of such a scale that we were facing new and difficult challenges. During the heaviest part of the storm, there were nine fire trucks and seven ambulances with patients stuck and unable to move throughout New Haven.”

Now the campus is returning slowly to full operation — thanks to the constant dedication and vigilance of many staff members. As one student put it:  “You guys have really come through in the last few days and I am so thankful for the commitment of your employees!“