Prior to the recent snowstorms, the Office of Research Facilities’ (ORF) and their contractors had a robust plan in place. They were prepared for snow removal, salting/sanding of walkways and roads, equipment failures at gates and utility sites, power outages, co-generation plant monitoring, etc. Many were prepared to be here throughout the storm.
The storm hit on Friday, February 5 with record accumulation up to 27 inches or more. Trees and power lines were downed. Pepco had over 88,000 power outages. Before the area could recover, the blizzard of February 10 followed with more snow and high winds for 12-18 hours with an additional 6-12 inches on top of the mountain of snow from the previous week. Blowing snow, and wind speeds over 35 miles per hour caused large snow drifts and whiteout conditions with visibility reduced to 1/4 mile or less. Travel became extremely hazardous if not impossible.
ORF had approximately 135 federal employees and 100 contractors who remained on site during the first storm, sleeping on cots and working around the clock to ensure that the buildings and grounds were safeguarded. Snow removal was by far the most visible activity. Clear roads were crucial to ensure trucks could deliver supplies and fuel. Another critical function was keeping the central utility plants functioning at Bethesda, Poolesville and Baltimore. Providing steam to the buildings was essential to protect patients in the Clinical Center, but also the numerous animals housed on the campus, many of which have been bred over generations to study the effects of aging. Other employees monitored all buildings to ensure that air handling units clogged with snow were restored to power.
Normally, on weekends, Donna Phillips resides with her 76-year-old mother in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Instead, she stayed on the Bethesda campus once the storm began. She made sure that her mom was prepared to be alone for the storm, ensuring that she had an ample supply of medications and even trained her how to use the snow blower to ensure that their dogs had a place to run.
Shift supervisor Leroy Proctor had already been on campus since Friday, February 5. He has tremendous responsibilities maintaining the operation of the campus during off hours. He lives in Indian Head, MD. During the storms he ran home once during an 8-hour period when his home lost power and his wife became ill. He returned on time to start his next shift. Worried about his wife being alone, sick and with no power in their home, he was trying to make arrangements to run home and move her to a hotel near the NIH. But, the snow started again before the end of his shift. Knowing the NIH needed him and because of his personal dedication he called his wife and had her drive to a local hotel and rent a room for the duration of both storms. After the storm, he received word that the weight of the snow on his carport was collapsing the structure. He still stayed and continued to work double shifts until the situation on campus was stable.
Donna Phillips, Leroy Proctor and other extremely dedicated NIH employees, including Edward Kim, Eric Jarvis, Cecil Barbour, Dwight Brown, Jin Kang, Antonio Holmes, Gideon Harris, Mack Burton, Jeff Bender, Buck Davis, Don Paddy, Dan Skoh, Fred Busche, Gerard Carroll, Jeff Bender, David Poffenberger, Francis Seymer and the Diversified Services Group focused on ensuring that the mission of NIH was sustained through blizzards and anything else Mother Nature could throw at us.