Protecting Drexel During Hurricane Sandy

public safety

When the official Campus Weather Advisory email came Sunday afternoon, announcing that the University would be closed Monday and Tuesday, it’s likely that many in the Drexel community felt a sense of relief and maybe even that unmistakable snow-day excitement. But not everyone enjoyed the luxury of staying home with their families. For many, that email meant it was time to get to work.

As part of Drexel’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan, which has been revamped, rewritten and upgraded significantly in the past four years, the University has an Emergency Response Team, just one of three teams charged with handling any type of crisis situation at Drexel. Each team plays a different role in a given situation, whether it’s a natural or manmade disaster or a threat to campus safety.

The first level is the Crisis Management Team, comprised of senior executives at the University including President John Fry, Provost Mark Greenberg, Lori Doyle, senior vice president in University Communications,  James Tucker, senior vice president for student life and administrative services and Domenic Ceccanecchio, senior associate vice president for public safety. The second level is the Emergency Response Team, made up of manager-level officials from across the University—Business Services, Public Safety, Facilities, Environmental Health & Safety, University Communications and more. The third level is the Incident Response Team—the public safety and police officers who are the “boots on the ground,” Ceccanecchio said.

“Everybody’s first concern is the safety of the students,” said Ceccanecchio. “Secondary to that is making sure Drexel’s properties and assets are protected.”

While storm assessments and response plans started last week , the real work began at 6 a.m. Monday morning, Ceccanecchio said. “We brought additional police and security officers in, the Facilities Department brought extra people in—we really beefed up our staff across the board.” This group was responsible for making rounds across campus, checking for problems such as leaks or wind damage in buildings and responding to any reported incidents. Similar teams of emergency personnel were also in place at Drexel’s Center City and Queen Lane campuses.

“The people that have the hardest job are the public safety people—the police and public safety officers, the emergency personnel in Facilities,” said Jim Katsaounis, associate vice president for University Communications and a member of the Emergency Response Team. “These people were just non-stop—they were constantly outside in the bad weather, walking the campus, checking the buildings for leaks and power outages. They would come into the Emergency Operations Center in these yellow rain suits and they were just soaking wet.”

Meetings were held every two hours to share updates on any incidents or problems caused by the storm. By late afternoon, additional members of the Emergency Response Team were called in to man the Emergency Operations Center at 3201 Arch Street. Public safety and facilities officials continued their work in the field and the team’s administrators were at the ready for continued communications to the University community and to make decisions about available services for the students. Even Drexel President John Fry paid a visit to campus in the storm to assess the situation.

By 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, with the threat of Hurricane Sandy behind them, members of the Emergency Response Team were sent home. By Wednesday, normal operations at Drexel were back in full swing.

But for the Emergency Response Team, the sense of pride in their fellow team members is long lasting.

“I’m proud to be part of an essential team that the University depended on in what could have possibly been a really bad situation,” Katsaounis said. “We were fortunate that we didn’t have any major emergencies.”

Even if there had been major incidents, the team would have been ready.

“The whole team was very cohesive and professional throughout—even though the incidents were minor, they responded quickly and effectively,” Ceccanecchio said. “Everyone performed admirably. I’m proud of this team.”