Riding out the storm
As Houston and the surrounding region was hammered by Harvey, teams at UTHealth and McGovern Medical School were prepared and in place, protecting the university and its assets.
Due to mitigation efforts following 2001’s Tropical Storm Allison, including aquarium glass, earthen berms, a new pump system, and flood gates, the medical school was storm ready.
The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) began working 12-hour shifts on Saturday, Aug. 26, to ensure the safety of UTHealth’s facilities and the ride-out crews who stayed behind, including those from the Center for Laboratory Animal Medicine and Care; the Office of Facilities, Planning and Engineering; Information Technology; Safety, Health, Environment & Risk Management; and Auxiliary Enterprises.
“UT Police personnel prepared going into this, like the professionals and Samaritans they are,” said Chief of Police and Chief Security Officer William Adcox. “We had everything staged and ready to deploy.”
Once they got into the thick of it, they worked their prioritized list, commandeering high-water rescue vehicles to bring in doctors, nurses—those specialized health professionals who must be on site.
Officers kept critical supply lines open, or personally went through high waters to ferry blood and other medical supplies, and transported 70 employees of UTHealth and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from flooded areas, bringing relief and assistance to hospital patients and staff.
“Some of our folks even went through high water to bring insulin for a critically ill patient at UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center, all the while working in tandem with the Emergency Operations Center,” Adcox said.
UT Police Department Public Safety Officer Bob Luehr was a round-the-clock witness to historic Hurricane Harvey as it tested the flood doors and other FEMA-mandated measures installed on and around the Medical School Building following Tropical Storm Allison of 2001.
Luehr started his shift on Friday, Aug. 25, as the storm approached, and stayed in the building through Thursday, Aug. 31, working 12-hour days and sleeping first on a couch in the Leather Lounge and then on a cot under the medical school’s main stairwell. He split the time keeping watch over Harvey with William Dorsey, UTPD public safety officer, who worked the night shift.
At the height of the storm, Luehr documented 3 feet of water rising up to the Medical School Building’s front doors on Fannin with his cell phone camera and saw it rushing by on Ross Sterling. “I’ve never seen it like that,” he said.
Luehr patrolled the building during the storm as it was on controlled-access status. He was shocked as the post-Allison submarine door facing Webber Plaza side started to breech, bringing 400 gallons of rainwater into the Leather Lounge.
“James Dawn was the savior of this place—he like to run himself to death in this building and in other buildings, too. He did a wonderful job,” Luehr said.
Once the water started to appear on the ground floor, Dawn, senior digital control technician with Facilities Operations, brought in a load of sandbags and built up a wall both inside and outside the building’s interior glass walls. He also helped bring in cadavers from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center to store in the gross anatomy morgue because the hospital had run out of space.
“The only good part about being here all that time was that you could push the elevator button and it was right there—you never had to wait,” Luehr said.
Adcox said, “I couldn’t be prouder of my staff across the board. Many didn’t leave for days, unable to check on their own homes, sleeping here, working ’round the clock. The leadership team is frankly astounding, and willing to do whatever it takes to help their fellow citizens by putting their own lives in the backseat while helping others. It is simply humbling.”