Skip header content and main navigation Binghamton University, State University of New York - News
Binghamton University Newsroom
Binghamton University Newsroom


Campus responds to community crisis

By : Rachel Coker

The University community mounted an amazing effort to help evacuees in the wake of devastating flooding across the Southern Tier. The Events Center served as a Red Cross emergency shelter for about five days as more than 1,800 people fled their homes. University employees helped ensure they were healthy, safe, well fed and as comfortable as possible.

“We did an outstanding job because our plan of how to do this was well founded and we got a good start,” said James Van Voorst, vice president for administration and coordinator of the University’s efforts.

It all began when the Red Cross contacted Broome County Emergency Services, which approached the University for help late Tuesday, June 27. The East Gym is the University’s designated emergency shelter, but with repairs under way at that facility and officials estimating that as many as 3,000 evacuees might be headed to campus, President Lois B. DeFleur and the vice presidents decided to open the Events Center as a shelter early June 28.

Cindy Gordineer, executive director of the Southern Tier Chapter of the Red Cross, said the Events Center was one of 25 shelters in a five-county area that were staffed around the clock by volunteers.

“We could never have pulled off a relief effort of the size of this center without the University’s help,” Gordineer said.

Gov. George E. Pataki and state Sen. Thomas W. Libous visit evacuees at the Events Center on June 28.
“We are so grateful to the University.”

Highlights of the effort:

• The 28 officers of the University’s police force worked 12-hour shifts during the crisis. Ten officers were at the Events Center at all times. “We had to make people feel safe and we also wanted to be responsive to people’s needs,” said Tim Faughnan, deputy chief. “Everybody went way above what the job required.”

• Twenty-seven people, including 17 nurses, from the Decker School of Nursing’s staff volunteered. Challenges for the nurses included lining up medications, supplies and equipment, Dean Joyce Ferrario said. Evacuees needed intravenous antibiotics, oxygen and help with respiratory, mental and mobility issues. In one day, Decker nurses ran 600 blood sugar tests for diabetics. There were pregnant women, babies, dementia patients and people in wheelchairs. A May disaster drill with a very similar scenario helped prepare Decker for the situation.

• Physical Facilities employees put in about 1,210 hours of work, setting up the facility in record time and keeping the Events Center clean once the shelter opened.

• Roughly 30 Sodexho Campus Services employees and managers served more than 7,000 meals during what would have been one of the year’s slowest weeks for food service. When suppliers couldn’t reach

State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo speaks June 30 at the Events Center. President Lois B. DeFleur and Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan listen.
campus, Sodexho managers went out in catering vans to pick up whatever produce and other food they could get. One evacuee said the food was so good she felt like she was on a cruise.

• Rodger Summers, vice president for student affairs; Lloyd “Skip” Howe, associate vice president and dean of students; and Ken Holmes, assistant vice president for student life, kept what Van Voorst termed a “constant vigil.” Employees from their division’s Counseling Center and Health Services provided psychological and medical support, while employees, orientation advisers and other students joined the volunteer effort. “This was pretty unprecedented,” Howe said. “But at the same time I felt that as a University we were well-prepared. Everybody went into it with the attitude that the Binghamton way is to do it the best we can.”

• The Events Center’s small staff worked throughout the ordeal and basically turned over their offices to the Red Cross. They also helped to provide shower facilities for evacuees. “This puts a whole new meaning to the words multipurpose facility,” said Susan Crane, assistant director. “The place really became a home for these people.” She noted that area businesses such as Wegmans, Target and Wal-Mart donated supplies to aid the evacuees.

• More than 250 members o

Binghamton University President Lois B. DeFleur addresses flood evacuees on June 30 at the Events Center.
f the University community participated as volunteers. Within an hour of the first call for help, 45 people had signed in to assist in the effort at the Events Center. “The University really pulled together as a team and it was great to see everyone give so much of themselves,” said Bill Panko, director of campus community services. He helped to coordinate volunteers.

• Elected officials, including U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, Gov. George E. Pataki, state Sen. Thomas Libous, state Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, visited the Events Center to hear evacuees’ concerns and assure them disaster relief was on the way. “It has been a remarkable, a successful emergency response,” Clinton said. “And I want to thank the University. It has been a really great example.”

On June 30, as the number of evacuees at the Events Center dwindled to fewer than 200, Clara R. Smith sat quietly with her niece, Suzanne Hayes. The two had been evacuated June 28 from apartments in Binghamton’s Woodburn Court.

Smith, 90, ran out of heart medication and had to seek help from the clinic at the Events Center. “They set me up with the pills I needed,” she said. “They’ve gone out of their way to be helpful. I’m very thankful I had this place to come to.”
Connect with Binghamton:
Twitter icon links to Binghamton University's Twitter page YouTube icon links to Binghamton University's YouTube page Facebook icon links to Binghamton University's Facebook page Instagram

Last Updated: 10/14/08