Duke-wide Team Effort During Snow Storm

Staff from grounds to the hospital worked to keep Duke running

Frank Horner, residential life maintenance supervisor, shovels snow after intense snowfall last week. He was one of thousands of Duke employees to pitch in to keep the university and health system running. Photo by Duke Photography.

As the sun crept from behind clouds Friday morning and temperatures started to rise, a multiday, non-stop effort to keep Duke clear of snow and ice began to wind down.

Starting last Tuesday, Facilities Management staff worked to prepare and treat campus as Winter Storm Pax came through the Triangle, dumping up to eight inches of snow and as much as a quarter-inch of freezing rain in various party of Durham County.

From more than 1,000 gallons of brine - a salt-water solution applied to pavement - to the 1,000 rides Duke's transit department provided to essential health system caregivers, staff all across Duke collaborated to provide essential services to students, patients, staff and other members of the community.

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The effort was noted Friday in a "thank you" email from President Richard H. Brodhead.

"I commend the nurses and doctors who continued to care for their patients, the Facilities workers who tirelessly cleared roads and sidewalks, the Police and Transportation staff who ensured that everyone could safely move around campus, the Housing and Dining employees who provided meals for thousands of students, the library and laboratory staff who helped our research enterprise continue, and so many others who worked around the clock to ensure that Duke fulfilled its mission even under difficult circumstances," Brodhead wrote.

On Tuesday afternoon, grounds crews at the university and health system began pre-treating primary and secondary roads and entrances to parking garages in preparation for the storm. More than 10 tons of rock salt was spread and roughly 600 gallons of liquid ice melt was used to create safe travel conditions.

"Everybody on staff was so anxious to make sure they got everything done," said Bryan Hooks, director of grounds for Facilities Management. "We were all on a heightened alert to make sure we could do a good job and give our greatest effort."

For 47 Facilities staff, that meant spending the night at Duke during the worst of the storm Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Some members of crews worked 12-hour rotating shifts while others stayed over to assist with any mechanical or logistical emergencies that could have arisen.

Thank you, Duke employees

The Duke Chronicle editorial board wrote that "Duke launched a proactive and superb response to the unexpected weather."

Read the editorial

As soon as about two inches of snow accumulated on roads, plows began a nonstop loop around campus and calls began coming into Duke Police. Seven vehicle crashes were reported on campus during the winter event.

"The teamwork, collaboration, and professionalism of literally thousands of individuals was outstanding," said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration. "Our dedicated faculty and staff ensured that our core missions continued as best as possible under adverse conditions."

As road conditions deteriorated during the storm, travel became troublesome. At Duke Hospital, 980 staff members were provided with accommodations once it became clear they couldn't make it home. For those who did need to travel, about 1,000 rides were given to essential caregivers within a 10-mile radius to ensure they could get back and forth.

Likewise for students, Duke Dining operations kept the East Campus Marketplace and West Campus' Penn Pavilion open by picking up staff that couldn't make it in on their own. Preparations were so detailed that Duke Stores staff made sure vending machines were fully stocked before the snow fell.

Staff from Student Affairs also pitched in, shoveling walkways into Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Lisa Beth Bergene, assistant dean for residence life, made the decision on Tuesday she would bunker down in her Brown Residence Hall office on Wednesday night to make sure walkways were clear and students were taken care of. As an avid hiker, she grabbed her sleeping bag, toiletries and clothes and "camped" in her office.

"Residence coordinators were out shoveling snow and Facilities staff were scrapping ice and fielding calls, so it was important to think about where our priorities are to keep students safe, fed or whatever else needs to get done," Bergene said. "The best part was the students were grateful for what they were seeing."

Nick Petro, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Raleigh branch, said the storm was caused by a low-pressure system moving from the Southwest through the region.

Local residents can expect a quick change in weather, he said.

"Temperatures will approach 70 by Tuesday and Wednesday," Petro said. "Clearly, all this snow and ice won't be around for very long."