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By David J. Cieslak
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 4, 1998

UA prepared for worst from El Niño


Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Capt. Steve Ruda, Los Angeles City Fire Department public information officer, talks to a city inspector Sunday after a large hunk of hillside gave way and crashed into an evacuated home in the Studio City district. The two men are standing on what had been the outer deck of the pool. The UA has released an emergency plan addressing the possible effects of El Niño.

While California is doused with El Niño's heavy rains and upended by high winds, the UA is preparing for any weather-related problems that might come its way.

Parts of California have been devastated by the horrific effects of the tempests - gargantuan potholes in roads created by automobiles driving over the softened earth and destroyed homes, once sitting at the tops of mountains, that met their demise at the bottoms.

In the wake of these disasters, the University of Arizona's Office of Institutional Advancement has released a plan to all deans, directors and department heads that outlines proper weather emergency procedures and describes precautions the university has already taken.

Computers are a major concern, especially if a power outage occurs.

The Center for Computing and Information Technology has a generator that maintains power to its computers for 30 minutes - time enough for workers to close programs and shut down in an orderly fashion. Bob Lancaster, principal computing manager for CCIT, said precautions are necessary with or without El Niño.

"What we're doing is something that we need to do anyway," he said. "We're preparing for any crisis that can occur."

Lancaster said all essential services - including employee payroll, the UA's Web site and the e-mail system - are hooked in to an uninterruptable power system, keeping them afloat if storms douse the campus.

If students experience serious problems with computer services any time during the day or night, Lancaster said they should contact the computer operations department in the computer center.

Sharon Kha, director of institutional advancement, said her office plans ahead for any type of problem, instead of dealing with situations when they arise.

"My personal style is to push out to the worst possible thing, figure out how to handle it and move back from there," she said.

Kha hopes the UA will soon install an alert system that will send a message to all campus computers, warning of an approaching situation.

"It would be a single message that can be connected to every computer on campus so that the same message would come up," Kha said.

But some skeptics say the preparations for El Niño have been blown out of proportion, especially here in Tucson.

Risk Management Director Steve Holland said the UA has experienced more problems with monsoons than with El Niño.

"We have had more difficulty in the past with summer storms than with these types of events," Lancaster said.

Lancaster also said the fuss over El Niño might be the result of public and media exaggerations.

"To a certain extent, the public and the media played more into it than necessary," he said.

Before students begin battening down the hatches, Michael Goodrich, KVOA-TV weatherman, said although there has been some abnormal rainfall, the threat might have been blown out of proportion.

"It never was as big of a deal as some people thought it was," Goodrich said.

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