Texas State rallies together during unprecedented winter storm
Staff Contributors | March 4, 2021
Highlights of the countless ways Bobcats responded in a crisis
Throughout the historic winter storm of February 2021, Texas State University students, faculty, and staff persevered and countless Bobcats looked for opportunities to help their friends and neighbors. Through statewide rolling power outages, water and food shortages, and dangerous weather conditions, numerous stories emerged of the bravery and comradery of students, and the selfless service of staff and faculty. Explore some of the many ways members of the Bobcat family helped one another through frigid conditions. Although the snow and ice have melted and warmer Texas temperatures have returned, the heroic efforts of students, faculty and staff should be remembered. To submit a story of your experience in the storm or recognize the efforts of a student, faculty or staff member, fill out the short news tip webform.
Texas State dining team provides 9,000 meals to Bobcats during snow, power outage
During the worst of February’s freezing temperatures and power outages Feb. 14-18, the Texas State dining service team was able to provide over 9,000 meals to students, in residence halls and those who live off campus.
The harsh weather conditions and state-wide rolling blackouts affected the San Marcos Campus. Some of the dining team members who lived near campus were able to work with some people staying overnight in the on-campus residence halls, at nearby hotels, or on office couches. After the first snowstorm hit, 16 managers and associates traveled to the campus to ensure students were fed. Several buildings lost electric power, which made most of the cooking equipment unusable and killed the lights in the kitchens and dining rooms. Director of Auxiliary Services John Root and chef Michael Giese stayed on the job throughout the week creating meals with limited food supplies on hand.
Any Texas State student with a current university ID was provided with meals at Commons and Harris Dining Hall for five days. Communication about the availability of food was shared on social media and through residence life. Food deliveries were also made to students who were quarantined due to COVID-19 and those students getting temporary comfort in warming busses. Several managers transported cases of bottled water and paper products to campus buildings with their personal vehicles as the roads were not safe for larger trucks.
UPD exemplifies readiness, compassion and quick action
Texas State University Police Officers began preparing for the forecast of extreme weather on an unforgettable Valentine's Day 2021. As the weather worsened and students, faculty and staff hunkered down to stay safe from the elements, UPD went to work to provide assistance and rescues at the university. UPD responded to nearly 200 calls over a six-day period.
"The team checked on students in the residence halls and worked with facilities to minimize damage. They also rescued stranded motorists," said Laurie Espinoza Clouse, UPD Chief of Police. "We know the community relies on us to come through when times are tough, and our officers exhibited their skill in managing any situation and keeping calm under pressure."
With roads iced over, officers and dispatchers slept on futons, air mattresses and cots in the UPD building to make sure they were available for their next shift. Dispatchers used their personal cell phones to create a lifeline for the community. UPD worked with divisions and departments across the university to find resources to support students who needed food, water and heat.
"It was the coldest weather I have ever experienced in Texas," said Lt. James Dixon, Interim Captain, who shoveled snow to make the sidewalks accessible to the university community. "I am so grateful to my fellow officers, who all quickly took action to make the campus as safe as possible and also responded to calls for help.
"Regardless of weather, we pulled together to make sure we kept this community safe and especially, kept the students safe to the best of our ability. I appreciate all the work by the UPD team to get us through the week," said Sgt. Rodrigo Manzanares, Interim Lieutenant.
Officer Cody Guerrero, an Army Veteran, responded to the call for service during the storm without hesitation, despite having to travel icy roads.
"Officer Guerrero showed up to work even after being advised by his supervisors that he should remain at home until the road conditions improved. He was also ready to heed the call from the Texas Army National Guard to mobilize in service to fellow Texans affected by the winter storm," said Manzanares.
Transportation Services provides warming stations, water to students without power
On Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. Texas State Transportation Services drivers and supervisors staged four Bobcat Shuttle buses at the Lantana Bus stop on the San Marcos campus to serve as warming stations. On Feb. 17, operators reported the peak time students were coming on board was from 9 p.m. to midnight with a maximum of 23 passengers across three buses. The buses were then spread over three locations, including Blanco Hall, Bobcat Village and one remaining at Lantana Hall.
Special thanks to the operators and supervisors who deployed and maintained the shuttles: Tim O’Reilly, Supervisor; Christopher Kruse, Supervisor; Martin Ray, Supervisor; Larry McNutt, Supervisor; Sarah Arndt, Operator; Catharine Provencio, Operator; Alfred Fernandez, Operator; William Cheney, Operator; Robert Rojas, Operator; Donald Meloni, Operator; Eloy Collazo, Operator; Brittany Laneaux, Operator; Tom Hoblin, Maintenance Manager; Rod Gonzales, Operations Manager.
The TXST Transportation Services team also supported Bobcat Village when the apartment was placed under a boil water notice. Tim O’Reilly, Transdev Services supervisor, loaded and delivered the water for Bobcat Village. Steve Herrera, Director of Transportation Services, implemented the warming buses, coordinated with Transdev to ensure bus yard access, de-iced drives for buses to exit the yard, and monitored equipment deliveries, fuel consumption and emissions buildup. He also coordinated with the Dept. of Housing and Residential Life to have Transdev help deliver water to Bobcat Village during the city's boil water advisory. He coordinated with the University Police Department to ensure passable roadways when warming sites were expanded to other locations on campus and coordinated with Transdev when buses needed to be swapped out for fuel and emissions requirements and monitored Department of Transportation limits for operators.
Margarita Pitti, Manager Shuttle Operations, supported the operations by developing and rescheduling Bobcat Shuttle service to accommodate the changing conditions and by coordinating with Transdev to ensure the availability of operators and staff, while deploying the warming buses. Alex Vogt, Coordinator Alternative Transportation, supported the operation on site. He assisted with signage and continuously checked on shuttle operators and provided coffee and helped source food for them when everything was closed. Stephanie Daniels, Coordinator Marketing and Promotions, supported the operation by developing and publishing critical information about the Bobcat Shuttle and warming buses operations through social media, email and other communications. Marci Peterson, Administrative Assistant II, supported the team and handled all communications with staff. She coordinated the customer support response and handled customer inquiries regarding the schedule changes and warming bus operations.
Carpenter comes through to help students in need
Throughout the storm, a carpenter for the Texas State Department of Housing and Residential Life responded to emergency issues and repairs on the San Marcos Campus for several days. Although he wasn't on-call, Doug Moss came to campus on Tuesday, February 16 because he thought he might be able to help. He quickly found himself responding to calls ranging from helping fix water leaks to assisting students with keys broken off in locks.
“I got calls in the evenings, several different calls at Bobcat Village. There were even two young ladies who stood in the cold and held the flashlights for me,” Moss said.
Like most of the university staff who worked that week, his own apartment was without water and electricity. Moss, who has worked at Texas State for three years, said a special shout out should go to the custodial staff who helped during this period, adding "they take care of the kids to a level that the rest of us don’t.”
Freeman Center staff ensures safety of livestock
As Texas’s human population shivered and struggled during the winter storm and power outages, the staff at the 4,200-acre Freeman Center continued to care for livestock. Operations manager Chris Thomas, coordinator Stacey Allbritton, and student worker Jason Viegas performed heroically; demonstrating the resiliency and resolve that characterizes true grit and the Bobcat Spirit. Each long cold day they braced against the bitter elements to ensure the livestock had access to food, water, and shelter. This required breaking ice on the frozen water troughs and putting out hay, alfalfa and other food supplements for the Freeman cattle and goat herds. As of Saturday morning, there were no reports of lost animals including the most vulnerable young goats and calves.
Utilities Operations works around clock to bring power back
TXST Utilities Operations deployed tactics to mitigate damage to the steam plants, while working around the clock to bring power back to the San Marcos Campus during long periods of city electrical outages.
Jim Vollrath, Director of Utilities Operations, had team members taking heroic steps to overcome the obstacles created by the deep freeze of the winter storm. “A number of staff members stayed the night, and some stayed multiple nights. It was cold in here and we lost running water to our operations area because we froze one of our main lines. Cots were set up, space heaters and everything else. It was very heroic for them to do what they did,” said Vollrath.
Plant operator Michael Kubin usually bikes to campus from his home on the other side of Interstate 35. When the snow and icy roadways made that impossible, he left home a couple hours early to walk to work where he performed several critical tasks. He manually reconnected switches when the electricity came back on, and worked in the control room relaying information as a dispatcher.
“Since the network was down, we couldn’t see any of our operations, so we deployed people to the West Plant to physically check to make sure the boilers stayed online,” Vollrath said. Utilities Operations employees also were refilling multiple generators across campus at least once a day. Vollrath explains that he and the team worked hard to keep the campus water going despite losing an estimated 1,000 gallons per minute from leaks.
“The City of Austin and San Marcos lost water and we did not. The power was out of our control, but we were able to control the water and succeeded in doing so,’” he said.
TXST has its own water source, a well house on the San Marcos Campus and 1.5-million-gallon water tower. To keep water from dropping too low in the tank, Utilities Operations electricians and water works mechanics along with Facilities Operations electricians connected a portable generator to the well house that enabled the pumps there to stay online despite loss of power. It was a constant effort to make quick decisions on how to manage the two heating plants that were affected by the freeze. The team was restarting the West Plant every time the power came on to get as much heat out of it as possible. The university’s Central Plant was a greater challenge. The main electrical source was knocked off during so much of the storm that pipes froze inside the plant. Utilities Operations decided Tuesday to winterize it and drain the pipe and hold off restarting until city power returned for a reliable amount of time.
“Starting plants is an hours-long process, so when power would return for an hour or two at a time, it was not enough time to get the plant back up. We made the decision to drain portions of the plant to prevent damage to the system,” said Vollrath.
The West Plant came online right away Wednesday night to early Thursday morning. The Central Plant came back online Thursday afternoon. The team that worked through these unprecedented challenges during the storm included:
- Robert Miller, David Flores, Chris Castro, Hilario Villarreal, Michael Kubin, Neil Bascos, Robert Coleman, Robert Norman – Plant Operators
- Roy Eastwood, Kurtis Crockett, Hector Vasquez, Mike Kocay, Bryan Brassell – Plant Mechanics
- James Norton, Greg Hode – Distribution Electricians
- Xavier Lopez, Joey Kristoff, Chris Olivares, Sam Brakhage, Jeremy Newberry, Kevin Ryan, Emilio Hernandez – Steam & Waterworks Mechanics
- Daniel Moran, Adrian Buitron, Enrique Llanes, Dennis Pennings, Joseph Hare, Amos Aguirre, Charles Childress – Technical Services
- John Shen & Carl Teague – UO Managers
IT staff works remotely from cars to restore computer system
During the storm, staff members in the IT Resources Department at Texas State found themselves working remotely in their cars, walking to campus, and serving as remote hands to recover the system.
The IT heroes included: Mike Krzywonski, who worked 12 to 14 hour days coordinating IT staff through crisis management of technology services; Shane Flaherty, who braved icy roads to safely shut down the high-performance computing system that was severely overheating in the Research Data Center; Eddie De La Rosa and Michael O’Connor, who walked to and from campus during the worst of the cold spell to provide ‘remote hands’ for other staff members who could not safely travel to campus; and Juan Morales, who reported to campus to restore the telephone system only to be called home when his pipes burst. By Thursday when the power was restored, more than a dozen IT staff returned to campus and worked through the weekend to bring all IT systems and phone services back online.