Rice braces for Hurricane Laura
All campus operations including in-person and remote classes were cancelled from 5 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday in anticipation for Hurricane Laura, according to an email sent to the Rice community Tuesday night, from Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee Kevin Kirby. Students living on campus are also required to shelter in place from Wednesday 10 p.m. until sunrise Thursday, according to an additional email sent Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in Louisiana and east Texas overnight Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. Strong winds and some rainfall are expected to affect the Houston area, which is currently on the outskirts of the storm.
Kirby said Rice has past experience dealing with hurricane preparation, but the COVID-19 pandemic this year brought additional challenges to their safety protocols.
“What was a twist from our normal preparations was having to do this in a pandemic,” Kirby said. “That changed some things that we would normally be doing, like how we shelter for example. So we had to make some modifications for what we would normally do for a hurricane.”
Susann Glenn, director of communications for administration, said normal shelter-in-place plans were designed this year with COVID-19 safety restrictions in mind.
“Normally, during a major weather event that includes high-winds, some college residents may ‘shelter-in-place’ in serveries or in the college commons, which are boarded and secured, and some colleges do so in interior hallways – it is dependent on the layout of the college,” Glenn said. “This way of sheltering requires numerous students to be in the same space together – which currently does not cohere to the physical distancing restrictions. The Housing and Dining team worked closely with the Dean of Undergraduates and the Environmental Health and Safety department to ensure that appropriate shelter-in-place options were available for all students who were on campus.”
All on-campus COVID-19 testing was cancelled for Thursday and those appointments were rescheduled for Friday instead. Kirby said any sick students will still be able to receive care amidst campus closures.
“We have teams of people who will be here tonight, taking care of everything, including students who might be ill, or if a water pipe breaks or a window breaks,” Kirby said. “So we have a lot of people who will be spending the night here tonight to take care of the people who live on the campus and also the physical assets of the campus.”
According to Tuesday night’s email, crisis pay will be given to those employees with the Crisis Management Team starting 6 p.m. tonight. Glenn said that Housing & Dining staff are included among those eligible for this premium pay.
“For purposes of Crisis Pay, H&D staff are designated as essential on-campus shift,” Glenn said. “This designation includes essential personnel who must report to campus for work, are assigned designated work shifts and do not require 24/7 availability. H&D employees are provided a hotel room off-campus before and/or during the event, and, during the hours outside of their designated work shift, they are able to use their time as they please and are not on-call.”
According to Glenn, other departments such as Facilities Engineering and Planning and the Rice University Police Department also remain on campus during these kinds of crises.
“The staff members from these departments are required to be on campus 24/7,” Glenn said. “The members of these departments that are included in the ride-out-crews, are paid for time worked as well as their downtime during the crisis event, as they are not able to leave campus and must be on-call at all times.”
For off-campus students, Kirby said resources such as additional shelter will be made available if needed, on a college-by-college basis.
“We have limited capacity on campus but for exceptional circumstances we will take care of students who have problems off campus,” Kirby said.
Kirby said that any decisions regarding operations on Friday will be made tomorrow morning once the impact of the storm can be better assessed.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a lot of water like Harvey,” Kirby said. “Areas to the east of here right along the Texas-Louisiana border are really in for a difficult 24 hours, but for the Houston area it’s looking a little better. We don’t anticipate a lot of damage to the campus overnight from wind. In the morning, we’ll do a damage assessment, then the Crisis Management Team will meet in the morning and make a decision about Friday.”
[8/28/2020 at 2:50 p.m.] The story was updated with quotes from Susann Glenn.
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