It was a late Thursday afternoon, and most everyone on UGA’s Griffin campus was wrapping up their day.
The weather had been cloudy and gloomy most of the day, and Elizabeth Laney kept up with it on her weather radio. She knew something was coming, and just before 4 p.m. on Jan. 12, a tornado warning was issued for Spalding County. That storm hit around 4:30 p.m., causing a fair amount of damage to the Griffin campus.
“It was poetry in motion, in a sense,” said Laney, an administrative specialist to the assistant provost and campus director. “We watched out the window for a while as it got darker and darker, and it didn’t take long.”
A message was sent to employees to go ahead and leave, if safety allowed, and those who opted to stay gathered in the basement as the storm passed.
“What I’m most grateful for, besides no one getting hurt, is the professional response from everyone who remained on the Griffin campus after we released people to go home. Faculty, staff and students took the tornado warning seriously, moved to designated tornado shelter areas and stayed in those locations until the storm had passed,” said Jeffrey Dean, assistant provost and director of the Griffin campus. “It’s easy for people to not take these things seriously, but no one who was on campus that day will ever take tornado safety lightly.”
As the storm moved through, Laney and her coworkers in the Flynt Building could see trees bending and eventually uprooting. At one point, the doors on the first and second floors burst open at the same time, letting in debris and water.
Laney ended up staying about another hour, and she said the storm itself wasn’t as eye-opening as trying to leave campus.
“There wasn’t really a way out because there was debris everywhere,” she said. “Traffic was in gridlock, and it was starting to get dark. Just to go about two miles took about an hour. That’s when it struck me that this was bad.”
Much of the community around the Griffin campus also suffered damage, but there were no injuries reported.
“Our staff visited the campus the day after the tornado to assist in recovery efforts, and the damage there was quite extensive. We were relieved to hear no one was injured on campus,” said Adam Fouche, director of UGA’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Insurance Claims Management. “I commend the staff at the UGA Griffin campus for their planning ahead of this storm. Their response highlights the importance of planning and preparing for severe weather. If other units are interested in updating or developing emergency plans for their area, they can reach out to the Office of Emergency Preparedness for assistance.”
Laney agrees, noting that the regular drills made a difference.
“People knew what to do, and they did it,” she said. “People just know to take action and do what we’re supposed to do. It’s a very prepared community we have here.”
In fact, the storm continued to bring people together in the following days. A welcome event for Dean, who just started his position, turned into a community effort to help with the storm’s impact, with a variety of ways to give back. Dean is now forming a committee of volunteers to help during similar situations.
“We have a good group of people to help in times like these,” Laney said. “We all look out for each other.”