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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Daily flood briefing: Bush may visit Iowa; 'no doubt' UI to open for classes in fall

Following is a summary of issues discussed at the daily media briefing today, June 17 (listen to the briefing in an mp3 audio format here.)

Bush Visit: University of Iowa officials have been told that President George W. Bush is scheduled to tour areas in Iowa affected by the flooding on Thursday, June 19. With 83 of Iowa's 99 counties affected by the flood, UI officials don't know for certain whether Bush will visit campus, but UI President Sally Mason said, "We would certainly welcome the commander in chief."

Summer Classes to Resume: Lola Lopes, interim provost, announced that summer classes would resume Monday, June 23. Details about relocated classes, how students and faculty will make up for lost class time and how students can update registration information will be announced officially Wednesday, June 18. "Our academic programs and students are being cared for despite the extraordinary flooding on arts campus," Lopes said. "I know of only one class being cancelled as a result of the flooding. Everything else has remained online and I'm very proud of that."

Record Enrollment: Lopes said that despite the flood, the UI has seen record enrollment this summer, including for the next six-week summer session that begins next week. "The numbers are going up daily, hourly, even," Lopes said. "So I think people out there are seeing we're a class act." 

'No Doubt' Fall Semester On: Lopes and Mason also made it clear that the fall session will go on as planned, although details about class assignments and other logistics won't be firmed up until later this summer. In any case, Lopes said, "The fall semester will not at all be affected in terms of academic content." Mason put it even more bluntly. "There is no doubt whatsoever that the University of Iowa will be open for classes in the fall."

New Student Orientation: Lopes said new, incoming freshman orientation, which was delayed by the flooding, would be rescheduled soon. A schedule for orientation should be ready by this Thursday.

Essential Versus Nonessential Employees: Mason said there's been some confusion about which UI employees are considered essential, and which are considered non-essential and should work from home this week. She said the designation simply refers to employees' skill sets as they relate to flood relief efforts. "This is not to imply that we have employees who are not essential to the university," Mason said. "We're talking about functions in a crisis. We're dealing with a flood to an extent we've not dealt with before.” Mason said the university continues to encourage employees who are not directly assisting with the flood relief effort or related tasks to work off-campus, especially since there are limited parking spots on campus and traffic congestion could hamper relief efforts. The current exceptions to this policy are employees of UI Hospitals and Clinics, College of Dentistry patient care clinics, and Oakdale employees who have been directed to return to work on campus. Mason strongly advised employees to contact their direct supervisors to determine their status, if they are uncertain, and to make arrangements to continue working off-campus if they are deemed nonessential. "After next Sunday, to stay in pay status, they need to be in touch with their supervisor to continue working from home," Mason said. [More details here.]

Entering Recovery Phase: UI officials said the campus is beginning to enter the recovery phase of the flood response operation. FEMA officials have already begun surveying the flood damage in Coralville, Iowa City and on the UI campus. Although full recovery is expected to take many months, water levels at the Coralville Reservoir are declining faster than anticipated.

Sandbag Donations: Don Guckert, associate vice president for facilities management, said that declining floodwaters, coupled with a favorable weather forecast for the next week, will permit the UI to donate unused sand bags to communities that are downstream and still coping with rising water. Both the UI and city of Iowa City have suspended new sandbagging operations. With the help of volunteers and the Iowa National Guard the UI plans to load some 250,000 unused sand bags on trucks for shipment to Burlington, Iowa and other southeast Iowa communities later today. Guckert said a portion of sandbags would be kept in reserve on campus. Volunteers are needed immediately (Tuesday afternoon and possibly into the evening) to help load the sandbags onto the trucks. They should report to the corner of Burlington and Madison streets.

Building Update: Guckert reported that the UI Main Library took on about 2 inches of water this week. While he said this didn’t cause any damage, the building was added to the flooded building list. Guckert also reported that on Monday, June 23 the UI would reopen the IMU parking lot. Despite this good news, he said the campus is still down 3,000 parking spots.

Floodwater Risks: Chris Atchison, director of the University Hygienic Laboratory at the UI, warned the public to avoid contact with floodwater, which he said is carrying raw sewage, agricultural runoff, fecal matter and industrial byproducts that can make both people and animals sick. He said the contaminated water could cause illness if it's ingested or enters the body through a scratch or puncture wound.

Atchison also said the UHL has distributed more than 695 test kits through county health departments in Iowa so private individuals can test their well water. He cautioned owners who receive the kits to postpone testing the wells until the water recedes. "Once that happens, wells need to be flushed, shock chlorinated and then tested," he said. He said people with public health questions may visit the UHL's Web site at or by calling 319-335-4500.

Flood Relief Fund Update: Mason said that the UI Foundation has done a "fantastic job" getting out word about the UI flood relief fund. As of today, the fund has received more than 150 gifts totaling $60,000. Mason said the university would look for ways to use the money to assist members of the UI family most personally affected by the situation.