After Friday’s quake, UAA classes resume in under a week

UAA students and staff evacuate after Friday’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake. (Photo courtesy of UAA)

Naomi Everett is in charge of the Lucy Cuddy cafeteria at UAA. She had just begun her work day when Friday’s earthquake hit Anchorage. Shortly after the initial shock, students and staff quickly assessed the damage.

“Lights were hanging down, the ceiling had come down in several areas in the bakery and our dining area,” Everett said. “Our offices were a little bit shaken but nothing too bad, and our plate room… there were smashed plates everywhere.”

Classes were canceled that day. UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen says it only took a couple hours for cleanup crews and engineers to start inspecting the campus. She says one of the inspectors was a UAA graduate.

“One of our engineering alumni, he’s the person who designed the Parrish bridge, which is our newest bridge,” Sandeen said. “He wanted to make sure his design would withstand the earthquake and he was really happy with the results, and so were we.”

The engineering team determined that no major structural damage or gas leaks took place on campus. The university’s incident response team gathered and began the cleanup process. Ryan Buchholdt was in charge of the University’s response team. He says the main priorities were getting fire suppression back online, as well as making sure student housing was safe and livable.

“A big issue was our approximately 900 students that live in our housing area,” Buchholdt said. “Several of our dorms lost heat, so that became a big priority, make sure we have heat in those spaces so students can occupy them.”

UAA power and internet wasn’t down for very long, so university officials were able to send out notices pretty quickly about the closure and what the next steps were.

For Buchholdt, once the university’s internal safety measures were stabilized, the next priority for the teams was getting teaching areas cleaned up and ready for use.

“We know that we could get through a few-day closure, but we’re right at the end of the semester. We have students that need to get through finals. We have commencement coming up very soon,” Buchholdt said. “So, the first priority for a lot of those folks became, lets see what the level of damage is out there so we know how to prioritize what building we need to focus on.”

He says the teams worked through the weekend in shifts that went from 10 to 12 hours, sometimes longer. Not all of the campus has been cleared out and some areas are still blocked off, but enough work has been done to resume classes.

Chancellor Sandeen says that the university was lucky that the whole process went as smoothly as it did.

“And I wasn’t sure about that because I arrived less than three months ago, but the first meeting I had when I was official here as chancellor was with our incident management team,” Sandeen said. “They explained to me what they did. They explained to me how they deploy. And I’m really grateful to be able to say it all worked.”

Sandeen says that as far as costs go, the university has reserve funds for emergencies, but they also have insurance and have been cataloging the damage to apply for federal relief. She says the university plans to discuss how to prepare even better for a future emergency.

When the earthquake hit (left photo) about a fourth of the UAA culinary department’s plates were broken. They put the rest in cages as a precaution during cleanup (Left photo courtesy of UAA. Right photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

As for Everett in the culinary department, she and her team have been cleaning, disinfecting and sorting the kitchen areas, making sure that they’re ready for students. She says they lost about a quarter of their dishes, and have taken a small step to ensure the numbers are lower in the case of another emergency.

“We just had the plates on shelving, but we switched out with the shelving units that can actually lock and close because then that way, they’ll stay contained,” Everett said. “Honestly, you can never predict whether things will rattle around enough to break in cages, but at least they wouldn’t be falling on the floor.”

UAA classes in the Chugiak-Eagle River campus have been relocated to the Anchorage campus while building damage is assessed there. Buchholdt with UAA maintenance says that campus is owned by a separate entity that is handling that damage. For the time being Eagle River students will finish their classes this semester at the Anchorage campus. Anchorage School District students who attend the Chugiak-Eagle River branch of Alaska Middle College, which is operated in partnership between with the district and UAA, will also be relocated.