OSU emergency service proud of response, continue to look for improvement.
The snowpocalypse. The glorious extended weekend. Whatever Oregon State University students wish to dub the recent snowstorms that descended upon Corvallis, the inclement weather had an immense impact on many residents’ lives.
When weather conditions disrupt daily life in such a large way, the efficiency of local emergency service teams becomes imperative. In the transition of recovering from snow and preparing for potential flooding, campus emergency services are evaluating past responses and working to improve future plans.
The OSU office of emergency preparedness and Oregon State Police are working in conjunction with the City of Corvallis to ensure the effectiveness of local emergency systems for future responses.
“We have an event, then we go back and analyze how we did and how we can get better for the next time,” said Michael Bamberger, OSU emergency preparedness manager. “I’ll record that and then change the plan. We get better every time.”
Bamberger is a recent addition to the OSU staff, having previously held emergency response positions with Benton County, Samaritan Health and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation before returning to Corvallis this year. As a new leader at OSU, Bamberger was proud of his team’s response during the winter storms but sees room for improvement.
“(Between storms), in just those few weeks, we got better,” Bamberger said. “We’re doing what’s called hot washes, or after-action reviews. Once everything is better, we pull people together and say ‘OK, how did we do, how can we do better and what should we do again?’”
Bamberger and his team employed various methods to evaluate their effectiveness, including consulting with other departments and even checking Facebook and Twitter for students’ responses.
After gathering ample information, Bamberger’s team came up with several ideas after the second snowstorm for improving student and faculty safety. By discerning which pathways and buildings were most important, Bamberger created priority maps that show which areas must be shoveled and kept clear first. The dining halls and health center, as well as accessibility ramps, ranked highest on the list.
According to Bamberger, the university only employs nine landscapers who diligently shoveled snow each day during the February storm. Other personnel like electricians, plumbers and even housing and dining services employees helped to keep the pathways clear. Despite the added help, some important pathways remained shrouded in snow.
“How do we take those limited people we have, those limited vehicles we’ve got, and get the most bang for our buck?” Bamberger asked. “An investment in machinery would free up more people to shovel.”
The emergency preparedness team plans on improving the resources it already has to improve efficiency. The department owns several Kubota tractors, which can be attached to small plows that would diminish snow piled on walkways. In addition, team members learned from the first storm that setting generators and sand next to buildings before the storm hit made them more accessible.
Another valuable tool is the emergency alert system, used collaboratively between the OSU emergency preparedness office and the Oregon State Police.
“When it comes to these weather-related events, it’s a group effort because there are so many interests on whether to keep the campus open, or leave some parts open and close other parts of campus,” said Sgt. Eric Judah of the Oregon State Police.
Judah said the Oregon State Police on campus provide insight and counsel to the university during weather emergencies, but have greater sway during emergencies of a criminal nature.
Though the snowstorms have passed, Bamberger said the campus is still at risk for potential weather-related emergencies. With the recent rainfall, Corvallis runs a risk of flooding.
“We do some prep work,” Bamberger said. “A little bit of work ahead of time makes less work during the event.”
The emergency preparedness team has already set out sandbags should the flood waters rise to affect important infrastructures. Bamberger said the alert system from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration makes a huge difference in ensuring public safety and awareness.
Although Bamberger is only in charge of the OSU campus specifically, he collaborates with the City of Corvallis, Benton County and the Oregon State Police to generate prompt and accurate warnings.
“Ultimately, we boil it down to life safety,” Bamberger said. “It’s always people first.”
Higher education reporter