One hundred forty-four hours. That’s how long Hurricane Harvey lasted for the members of Baylor’s ride-out team. This group of 52 essential personnel from Facilities, Security, Center for Comparative Medicine, and Radiology agreed to be locked in behind the campus floodgates before anyone knew where the storm would make landfall or how much damage it could cause.
“The goal is not to lose any research for Baylor,” explained John “Butch” Roberson Jr., executive director of Security.
Sump pumps, moisture detectors and 52 floodgates that each take up to an hour to install make up the College’s main line of defense against the elements. “We knew we were going to have some water, but only on Saturday did we know how much water,” said Rock Morille, vice president for facilities and property management.
Following the College emergency plan, the ride-out crew set up a command center in the president’s office, double-checked utilities and supplies, sealed the entrances and patrolled the 1.7 million square feet of building space. Between daily status calls with executive leadership, they slept on cots and dined on meals prepared in advance by Morrison’s Cafeteria manager Garrett Lucas. They bonded as a team.
“Our job was to monitor the critical infrastructure,” Roberson said. “We were constantly monitoring for water intrusion, especially in the basement, where issues did occur.” When water sprayed through a wall like a fountain because of the hydrostatic pressure of floodwater in the courtyard, team members, regardless of job description, grabbed pumps, mops and squeegees.
“It was an amazing experience when everybody saw something and did something,” Roberson said. “We had a great time working together. I have a greater appreciation for what Facilities and CCM can do.”
Outdoors, floodwater rose “within a few inches of the rim of the Alkek Fountain in the front and about one foot from the loading dock in the back,” Morille said.
Dr. Cindy Buckmaster, director of the Center for Comparative Medicine, is responsible for all the College’s research animals. “It’s a complicated job taking care of their physical and behavioral needs,” she said. “In an emergency, that level of detail has to be maintained or the animal models will not be as valuable to research.”
More than 100,000 animals depended on the 30-member CCM ride-out team while the College was closed. The emergency plan anticipated keeping the facility operational for a week without outside food, power, water or supplies. Communication with the researchers was essential. “We don’t want to disrupt studies and lose time” because of a storm, Buckmaster said.
She called her team heroes. “They care for living beings,” Buckmaster said. “They are the reason why six-year-old children with leukemia get to be seven. They saved human and animal lives for future generations.” The CCM reported zero storm-related deaths for the nine facilities it oversees in the TMC.
Likewise, there were no reports of lost equipment or research. “The pump systems functioned as designed. Their capacity was 10 times the amount of water coming in,” Morille said.
“I am so proud of each member of the ride-out team,” Roberson said. “It was a phenomenal, defining moment in my career to experience this.”
When the College reopened, Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean, personally thanked the tired and grubby team. “Your service is a testament to everything we do and stand for,” he said. “It wasn’t just buildings or animal care, it was everyone chipping in, representing a real team with real leadership.”