News, On Campus

White Noise: BC Responds To State Of Emergency

Ranked sixth largest in Boston’s recorded history, Winter Storm Juno brought over 24 inches of snow to the greater Boston area, covering Boston College’s campus with a thick canvas. The state of Massachusetts declared a state of emergency on Monday evening, leading the University to suspend all non-essential operations and services until Wednesday evening.

The suspension of University functions included the cancellation of classes, the closing of the libraries and the Flynn Recreation Complex, and the interruption of shuttle services for all of Tuesday and part of Wednesday.

The University’s response to the storm was guided by the plans and protocols outlined by the Emergency Management Executive Team (EMET), a division of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) that strategizes ways for dealing with a range of potential emergencies, crises, and threats to safety. In dealing with this snowstorm and the resulting school closure, the OEM and the EMET coordinated with various University offices and services—including the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), Facilities Management, BC Dining Services, Boston College Police Department (BCPD), the Office of News and Public Affairs, the Office of Residential Life, and Boston College EMS, among others.

“We [the EMET] have an emergency plan for the University, and winter storms are one of the hazards that we plan for,” said John Tommaney, director of OEM and chair of the EMET. “We take what we call an all-hazards approach—we plan for a whole range of things that could happen.”

Tommaney noted that BC had recent experience in dealing with an event of heavy snow—just two years ago, the blizzard Nemo brought nearly 25 inches of snow to the Boston area and closed the University for two days.

Coordination and internal talks via conference calls and meetings with key parties on campus regarding Juno began as early as last week, when the school was made aware of the potential of the storm to develop into a blizzard.

As the weekend wore on and it became apparent that the storm would severely affect the Boston area, the school made efforts to increase measures of preparation and step up operations for dealing with times of inclement weather.

“We have 7,000 students to support on campus and other operations that are going on, so we factor that all into our planning to make sure that plans are in place to have additional people and resources on campus before the storm even begins,” Tommaney said. “A lot of that coordination took place on Sunday and Monday—we had a large meeting with all of those key parties to make sure that we’ve covered all of the bases relative to the storm.”

These operations included extensive planning with dining services, facilities, BCPD, and ResLife to increase their staff on campus, and to make provisions for individuals involved with these operations to stay on campus for the duration of the storm.

Action was also taken to contact the vendors for dining services over the weekend to bring additional food on campus before the storm in case of emergency.

“BC Dining Services—they are kind of an unsung hero in all of this—they keep the campus fed, a critical operation not only for our students, but also for all the employees that have to be here when something like this occurs on the campus,” Tommaney said.

Special action was required in this storm, in particular, as transportation to, from, and around campus was limited. Measures taken included the addition of EMTs and increased BCPD presence on Newton, Upper, and Lower campuses, and contact with BC’s ambulance transportation providers.

Facilities brought in additional staff, outside contractors, heavy equipment, and outside vendors to aid in the extensive snow removal process, in order to keep priority areas of campus open, accessible, and safe during the storm.

These priority areas include the roadways around campus—so that emergency vehicles can get around easily—and the pathways between residence halls and dining halls.

“There were many heroes in dealing with this storm—they include the facilities workers, some 225 staff and private contractors, who worked around the clock with limited sleep to clear the campus to keep the roadways open for emergency vehicles and to enable us to be in position to reopen tomorrow,” said University Spokesperson Jack Dunn. “They deserve to be applauded for their efforts.”

The EMET is also responsible for consulting with, informing, and updating the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculties, the Executive Vice President (EVP), and the University President, who make the ultimate decision regarding the closing of the University.

In deciding storm closures and weather operations, there is a protocol in place that considers various factors that affect the University—such as the status of roadways in the area, walkways and roadways on campus, and the forecast. The OEM works closely with the National Weather Service and local and state emergency management officials, Tommaney noted.

Directives from state and local government officials are also are taken into consideration when deciding school closure—including the declaration of emergency made by Governor Charlie Baker and the travel ban—as well as the decisions made by peer institutions in the Boston vicinity, all factored into University’s decision to close.

Ultimately, the safety of the students, faculty, and staff is the determining factor in deciding on a closure, delayed start, or an early release, Tommaney said.

“Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our students and for the members of the University community who are traveling to BC from every New England state,” Dunn said. “Given the historic scope of the storm, and our desire to protect the safety of our students and members of the BC community, it was a prudent decision to make.”

As the snow storm began to subside late Tuesday night, facilities began working toward clearing the main roadways, parking areas, stairways, and addressing sightline visibility—all of which were factors in the University’s decision to reopen Wednesday evening.

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

January 29, 2015