Campus News

January 14, 2011

Emory perseveres through snowstorm

Staff, students share stories from 'an extraordinary week'

By Margie Fishman

Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, director of engaged learning in the Office of University-Community Partnerships, knew she was in trouble earlier this week when she witnessed a squirrel sliding across the icy crust outside her home office window.

After a bruising snow storm rolled into town Sunday night, disrupting every mode of travel imaginable and shutting down the University for four straight days and canceling classes for a week, Hartfield-Mendez took to the phones and e-mail to coordinate with colleagues and community partners.

It has been "an extraordinary week," notes Hartfield-Mendez, a faculty member in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. "Every single plan has been altered and life is completely topsy-turvy."

Yet the Emory community has soldiered on, even as the rest of the city ground to a halt.

Facilities management staff are clearing roads around campus, admissions representatives are reviewing applications, faculty are communicating virtually with students and staff are continuing to work remotely, Emory Dining is serving three square meals a day, University hospitals are handling scores of patients, and approximately 10,000 Emory Healthcare employees are receiving timely paychecks thanks to a devoted team of accountants who slept on cots in their offices.

University offices opened Friday at noon with limited service, and Emory was expected to resume normal operations on Saturday.

"While not easy, the winter event has tapped into the Emory ethos of making do and making a difference," says Provost Earl Lewis.

Lewis and Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration, along with a team of senior administrators have conferred several times a day over the past week to review road conditions, public transportation accessibility, weather forecasts and safety concerns before making the closing decisions on a day-to-day basis. Delaying the start of the spring semester by a week due to weather is unprecedented in recent memory.

Despite the severe conditions, Emory Healthcare offices and hospitals have remained open. Emory Clinic outpatient operations and ambulatory surgery sites reopened Wednesday.

Jenny Bruce-Crawford, an emergency room admissions representative for Emory University Hospital, logged 12-hour shifts and slept in the ER for four nights without complaint.

"I've been impressed by the teamwork, the excellent attitudes and the unity between departments," she says. "Everybody is in high spirits."

To guarantee that employees like Bruce-Crawford got paid on time, Marsha Bruce, a payroll supervisor for Emory Healthcare, and three of her department colleagues, braved the elements Sunday night for an impromptu sleepover on cots. Ignoring sore muscles and a skeletal staff, they wrapped up payroll at 10:30 p.m. Monday — one day early.

"We're a 24-7 operation, so it goes with the job," says payroll supervisor Bruce, who had to explain that to her baffled 6-year-old.

Emory Dining fed nearly 2,500 meals a day to Emory Healthcare employees, facilities and dining staff and students stranded on campus this week. The University organized housing for workers at the Emory Conference Center Hotel and provided meal vouchers.

Despite food delivery delays, Dobbs University Residential Dining, the Student Activity & Academic Center (SAAC) on the Clairmont campus and the Oxford Dining Hall remain open, along with Zaya's at the Depot and Starbucks at Oxford Road. Regular dining operations will resume Tuesday, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Reluctant to venture outside earlier this week, Emory College junior Rosy Gomez subsisted on bowls of Honey Bunches of Oats, watched movies and filled out her summer study abroad application. She finally visited the SAAC on Wednesday and was thankful for a balanced meal.

Monya Behnia, a junior at Goizueta Business School, temporarily swore off driving after nearly colliding with an 18-wheeler on I-85. While driving back to campus from her Buckhead home on Tuesday, Behnia spun out of control. She emerged shaken but unscathed.

"I was looking forward to getting back in the groove," she says of classes being canceled. "I'm over the ice. It's so inconvenient."

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