All Hands on Deck for Winter Storm

From grounds crews to dining and the Lemur Center staff, employees respond to storm

Elvis Holden, a Facilities Management Department landscape specialist, spreads ice melt in front of the Old Chemistry Building on Friday morning. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography
Elvis Holden, a Facilities Management Department landscape specialist, spreads ice melt in front of the Old Chemistry Building on Friday morning. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

During a regular week at work, Jerome Ballew is usually issuing parking citations or keeping an eye out for signs that need repair or parking spaces that need restriping.

But over the past weekend, Ballew, a supervisor in Duke Parking and Transportation Services, sat in the driver’s seat of a snowplow and cleared snow from parking areas on West Campus. Along with six other Parking and Transportation Services employees, Ballew shoveled snow and spread ice melt during 12-hour shifts.

“It’s about keeping the university up and running and functioning,” Ballew said. “Everyone stepped up to the plate and gave their best effort, and I’m proud to say that I work with a group of folks who put it all out there.”

Like Ballew, scores of University and Health System employees worked together starting late last week through the weekend and early Tuesday to respond to the sleet, snow and ice that brought treacherous road conditions across campus and the Triangle. According to the National Weather Service, areas in Durham received snowfall totals ranging from 1.4 to 7 inches Friday night through Saturday and recorded low temperatures between 5 to 11 degrees Monday morning. Icy road conditions led to the activation Friday evening of Duke’s severe weather and emergency conditions policy and four extensions before the policy expired at 12 p.m. Tuesday.

Through it all across campus, dining served meals, crews plowed roads and cleared sidewalks, police officers responded to calls, bus drivers navigated slick roads as students returned from winter break, and Duke Health personnel stayed overnight or took extra shifts to serve patients. Weekend events also went off without a hitch: Duke University Chapel hosted two weddings, and the men’s basketball game ended with a win in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“Each storm has some unique aspects, but the one constant has been the dedication of our employees who literally have worked around the clock for the past four days to provide the safest environment for our students, patients, faculty, staff and visitors.” said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration. “I continue to be extremely grateful to the commitment of our teams.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta took this wintry West Campus photo over the weekend.

Before the storm hit the Triangle late Friday evening, Duke’s Severe Weather Operations Team had been meeting days in advance and again through conference calls over the weekend to plan for and respond to the accumulation of snow and ice. Duke Facilities Management Department staff, Engineering and Operations at the Health System, Student Affairs Housing, Dining and Residence Life, as well as local contractors, applied ice melt, salt, brine and sand to keep the campus roadways, sidewalks and other paths as safe as possible.

During pretreatment, as well as during and after the storm, Duke’s Grounds crews spread about 4,800 gallons of brine, 70 tons of salt, 200 tons of sand and 9.5 tons of ice melt. They also used snowplows and other heavy equipment to clear roadways. At the peak of the snow response on Saturday, about 81 Duke staff and contractors were working to clear roads and paths, and shifts for the workers lasted about 12 hours.

“They have a mission and they all want to contribute,” said Bryan Hooks, Duke’s assistant director of Grounds, about his team. “They know the stakes are high as well. They know that a lot of people have appointments and life or death emergencies. We do what we can to have the clinics remain open and functioning.”

The ice melt in use on campus can melt ice in temperatures as low as 22 degrees, and the brine melts ice in temperatures above 25 degrees. Because temperatures were below freezing most of the weekend, crews had to continue to layer salt on ice-packed roads and paths and hope for higher temperatures.

For the Duke men’s basketball game in Cameron on Saturday, about 70 staff members and local contractors planned more than a week in advance for the possibility of winter weather affecting the game against Boston College. Duke staff brined roads and parking lots and cleared walkways to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where about 5,000 people attended the game.

“We’re constantly planning and talking through scenarios,” said Bob Weiseman, Duke’s assistant director of athletics for athletic facilities, game operations and championships. “We have people available to us that are willing to jump in and help us battle through it and get to the end and make it as safe as an event as possible.”

At Duke University Hospital, the “Snow Desk” was activated, in which Duke Health personnel and Duke Parking and Transportation Services provided rides within a 10-mile radius to and from the medical campus to essential medical personnel.

About 1,135 requests for rides were provided through the Snow Desk over the weekend, and about 100 medical personnel stayed the night on Friday and 40 people stayed overnight on Saturday. One hundred air mattresses were set up in the Searle Center’s banquet hall and the lights were dimmed so staff could sleep between shifts or while on call.

“You see people going above and beyond to support their teammates and just really showing their commitment to the organization and our community,” said Jessica Thompson Melton, vice president of emergency services and patient flow for Duke University Hospital. “That’s the reason I went into health care, to see people like this and to see the mission of making sure that we can be here when people need us the most, even when it’s challenging for us.”

Before the sleet hit, Duke Lemur Center staff stocked up on food and ordered additional ice melt for paths that connect the center’s six buildings. They also ordered more food such as bananas, apples and broccoli for the lemurs. Five technicians and two veterinary staff members stayed in a cabin on the Lemur Center’s property Friday through Monday to care for the center’s 250 lemurs. Staff who didn’t stay the night delivered homemade macaroni and cheese to colleagues.

“One of the things that makes this team so incredible is they’re so giving,” said Greg Dye, director of operations and administration for the Duke Lemur Center. “It’s not an easy operation in good weather, and it’s an incredibly difficult operation in bad weather, but they do it with a smile on their face.”