When snowflakes began to drop on Sunday night February 24, many people were excited. But as the snow continued, excitement soon turned to dread as the snow piled and trees began to snap, causing property damage throughout Douglas County, including at UCC, with no stopping in sight.
Because of the snow, branches began to break or press over power lines from the weight of the snow. Even power poles began to fall, creating a domino effect that shut electricity and closed roads and businesses.
Umpqua Community College, like nearly all of Douglas County, had to close for five days during week eight of the term just as students were preparing to close out winter term.
Jess Miller, director of facilities, kept students and staff who had signed up for emergency alerts updated through mass email and texts. While staff stayed home, Miller and any security or maiintenance staff who could get on campus worked in temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit to de-ice the campus so it would be safer for students. Steve Songer Construction helped move the 15 trees which had fallen from the weight of the snow. A week after the snow, crews were still working on cutting down trees and branches for safety reasons.
One tree fell on a car that someone in the nearby neighborhood had parked on campus. The driver, who was worried that they would be snowed, in had been granted permission to leave their car parked there only to end up with the windshield smashed in.
Even though the campus had closed before for snow, Miller said, “It has never been closed for extensive snow damage like this before.”
Other campus damages came from loss of electricity. The refrigerators and freezers as well as many cash registers in the cafeteria failed. All of the food in the coolers had to be thrown out. Cafeteria manager Steven Fair-Harrison said that 14 lbs of turkey, all of his brisket, 40 pounds of chicken thighs, all of the milk, all of the buttermilk and all of the half and half dairy plus some cheese and a lot of sauces were lost. “It’s going to be in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars lost. It could have been worse,” Fair-Harrison said. Staff were unable to get onto campus until electricity had been out for three days. “We could come in on Thursday to check, but by then the power was back on,” he said. Fortunately, all the food in the freezer remained frozen because the seal was never broken, and the freezer was never opened.
The power outage also caused a brownout which is the lack of enough electricity to keep equipment running, so the boiler overheated. Miller had to call the fire department to prevent the boiler from causing a fire. This caused heat to buildings such as the ESB, Athletics Activities and Administration buildings to have to wait for electricity a day after power was returned to the rest of campus.
Because of the brown out in the Activities building, the pool was affected. The filter tank was damaged, and this caused the pool to fill with brown water and ruined the control system.
While Miller says he’s open to suggestions, he says he wouldn’t change much from how he dealt with the situation. “My primary concern was to get this place [UCC] safe. If this ever happens again, we’ll just shut down for the week and get busy.” However, Miller says he would like to see better tree evaluations so they can avoid more falling trees.
UCC Security, the maintenance crew, and other outside help allowed UCC to open the following week. “There are too many people to name to thank, and I don’t want to forget anyone. Just thanks to all the security and maintenance staff that could make it,” Miller said. He would also like to thank the senior communications staff. Many decisions were made “on the fly,” and Miller worked closely with them to decide if athletics were going to continue during the week of snow. He states he “couldn’t have done it without them.”
Miller cautions students to be patient as UCC continues to fix the damages and comply with any and all barrier tape. “It’s not a guideline, it’s a barrier.”