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Chancellor Holds Town Hall to Discuss
Measures Taken After Wildfires Hit San Diego County

Ioana Patringenaru | November 5, 2007

Chancellors Town Hall (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
From left: Richard Liekweg, medical center CEO, Vice Chancellor Steven Relyea, Vice Chancellor Penny Rue and Chancellor Marye Anne Fox during a town hall meeting held Oct. 31.
Watch a video of the town hall meeting

About a dozen UCSD employees have lost their homes. Students who couldn’t work during October’s wildfires will have access to emergency loans. More than 6,000 new air filters were installed during a comprehensive campus clean-up.

These were some of the updates top campus administrators shared with faculty, students and staff during a Chancellor’s town hall meeting Wednesday at the Price Center Theatre. Administrators also fielded questions from the audience. The meeting’s goal was to share information and to try to find ways to help and to connect, said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Penny Rue. About 250 people turned out for the event. The goal also was to hear the audience’s concerns and suggestions, said Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

“We want to show continued leadership by listening,” she said.

As of Wednesday, 11 employees had reported losing their homes, Fox also said. [By Friday, that number had climbed to 15.]

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

“I just want to say that my heart goes out to the people who lost their homes,” said Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Steven Relyea.

UCSD has put in place a wide range of measures to help fire victims, including emergency loans, counseling and donation drives. University employees did a great job at handling the crisis, Relyea said. The campus’ Emergency Operations Center was open around the clock and was manned by employees, who put in 12-hour shifts. “And the only problem we had was telling people to take a break,” said Relyea.

“I just was so overwhelmed by the professionalism and the effectiveness and the loyalty of this entire campus community coming together,” he added later.

For example, when San Diego Gas & Electric warned it might have to shut down parts of the county’s grid, UCSD staff swung into action and shut down non-essential systems on campus. The university sent back about 3.5 megawatts of power into the grid and helped avoid blackouts, Relyea said.
Also, UC President Bob Dynes called the emergency center to say UCSD was doing an outstanding job at keeping its Web sites updated, he added. 

Richard Liekweg (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Medical Center CEO Richard Liekweg.

Meanwhile, the UCSD Medical Center declared an emergency status of its own and braced for an influx of fire victims. By the end of the week, the center’s burn unit had treated about 50 patients injured directly as a result of the fires, said Richard Liekweg, the Medical Center’s Chief Executive Officer. About 17 or 18 remained in the unit as of last week.

But medical center employees soon found out they had fire victims in the midst too. As of Oct. 31, five medical center employees had lost their homes, Liekweg said. In all, seven employees in Health Sciences lost their homes, making it the hardest-hit division on campus. Many also reported for work while their own homes were under mandatory evacuation, he added. The center also had three buses on hand to evacuate Thornton Hospital, if necessary, Liekweg said.

After looking back on the crisis, administrators also looked forward and tried to alleviate concerns. Chancellor Fox pointed out that more than 6,000 air filters have been changed on campus. Anyone who has concerns about facilities can call (858) 534-2930, Russell Thackston, director of facilities management, said after the meeting.

Penny Rue (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Vice Chancellor Penny Rue

Vice Chancellor Rue addressed students’ academic concerns. “It’s stressful to lose a week out of a 10-week quarter,” she said. Students will not have to make up for lost classes. But Rue urged them to turn to faculty, college and department advisors, as well as other campus resources, such as OASIS. Students who are in financial difficulty can apply for emergency loans, she added.

“One of my mottos is it’s a sign of strength to ask for needed help and I do hope you’ll reach out,” she said.

Liekweg fielded a question from one employee about compensation for medical center staff who did not work during the fires. Officials at the medical center have changed time-keeping rules for the period of the fires. The centers were opened and all employees were asked to do their best to work their normal shifts, according to a university statement. Absences will be charged to employees' vacation time, comp time or sick leave, as appropriate.

But all non-represented employees will receive an additional 16 hours of administrative leave, whether they worked or not, according to the statement. UCSD also has set up an emergency fund that will provide an additional 24 hours of leave for employees whose homes were destroyed or who were severely impacted by the fires, Liekweg also said. As of Nov. 5, several unions agreed to the same terms, and discussions continued with others.

Other San Diego hospitals that remained open are asking absent staff members to dip into their accrued paid leave, Liekweg pointed out. Pomerado Hospital, in Poway, which was closed during the fires, is offering three days of additional administrative leave for employees, he said.

Employees who were schedule to work on the UCSD main campus before the fires broke out will receive paid emergency days to cover that period.

Meanwhile, some in the audience thanked administrators for their handling of the crisis. Staff member Robin Wilson said she was grateful they took her calls to the Emergency Operations Center. She was trying to find ways to help Native American reservations, which suffered severe fire damage. Wilson also thanked Interim Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews. He provided a van, which allowed volunteers to deliver goods to the Santa Ysabel reservation Tuesday.


Have fire-related facilities concerns? Call (858) 534-2930


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