University departments adjust to week’s heat wave

University officers and gardeners strived to stay hydrated while they worked.

by Jim Hammerand

Temperatures cracked 100 degrees this week, but several University departments conducted business as usual with help from policies in place for extreme temperatures.

Police stay hydrated
University Deputy Chief of Police Steve Johnson said his officers are well aware of the special precautions they need to take in the heat.

“We may need to be out there for longer than most people would want,” Johnson said. “But we need to be aware of the heat and use our judgment.”

When temperatures hit 95, Johnson said, officers may choose to not conduct special duties, such as motorcycle or mounted patrol.

Officers on these duties complement their dark uniforms with helmets and high, black boots – not the ideal wardrobe for sweating it out in the heat.

Still, Johnson said, these units were on patrol a couple days last week.

The department’s hairier units are well-cared for during heat waves, Johnson said. When horses Bucky and Whisper patrol, officers are mindful of their ride’s thirst.

“We actually have a large bucket in our garage (on Washington Avenue Southeast) where we keep fresh water for them to come and hydrate,” Johnson said.

K-9 units need to stay cool, too. Officers make sure to keep dogs air-conditioned when they’re sitting in the back seat of the car, Johnson said.

Johnson said the public is pretty well-educated on how to stay safe in the heat. As he looked over the police chief’s weekend review, he said there wasn’t any indication of an increase in heat-related calls.

Campus kept green
University Landcare has 16 full-time gardeners and 70 students working outside, said Tom Ritzer, campus landscape architect. So far, he hasn’t seen any incidents of anyone falling ill because of heat.

That’s partly because of increased safety efforts including heat education and providing plenty of bottled water to the crews, he said.

Some crews even start work earlier in the day, when it’s still cool out, and spend less time working in the heat of the day.

But the mission to keep the campus greenery healthy is not as easy. Ritzer said the heat has taken a toll on campus foliage.

“The turf is struggling, but the crews are really working hard to keep that alive,” Ritzer said.

Landcare has combated the heat with increased watering during the early morning hours, when less water is lost to evaporation.

“We try to get water to plants before they need it, but not have the plants sitting wet all night,” Ritzer said.

In hot, dry periods, Landcare workers ease back on lawn mowing, doing it less frequently or with the mower blades higher. The longer grass keeps the ground cooler, Ritzer said.

Ritzer said there’s been a push to use more plants native to Minnesota, which would require less maintenance and be more resistant to extreme temperatures.

He described this as “working in cooperation with the environment.”

Northrop Mall isn’t prairie grassland, Ritzer said, because that doesn’t meet the expectation visitors might have of a university lawn: lush, green and neatly cut, which is what University Landcare strives for.

U conserves power
Facilities Management’s Energy Management unit is responsible for energy conservation at the University. An e-mail sent Monday asked departments to power down unnecessary equipment to reduce the amount of electricity the University draws from Xcel Energy.

Xcel spokesman Ed Legge said the power system was “at a point of critical load, where we had some of the highest demand ever” Monday. The utility company hit the 9,000 megawatt mark; 1 megawatt is enough power for about 1,000 customers, he said.

Legge said he could imagine the University alone pulling that much power. For Xcel’s sake, the University’s steam plant generated additional power to reduce demand in conjunction with conservation efforts.

As the last day of a heat wave, Monday was the hardest day for Xcel to meet capacity. But with temperatures dropping by as many as 20 degrees this week, power use is expected to be down for a while.

“We hit our peak, went over the 9,000 megawatt level, and then the sun went down and we didn’t have as much demand,” Legge said.