The staff of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, along with local emergency-services personnel, have been honored for their outstanding efforts in assisting the community after the devastating derecho storm that carved a swath of destruction from Iowa to the Atlantic on June 29.
The NRAO Green Bank staff members were presented Wednesday with the Associated Universities Inc. Community Service Award by AUI President Ethan Schreier. The award honors observatory personnel who have exceeded all expectations in their outreach and help to local communities.
"The selfless efforts of the NRAO staff in using the observatory's emergency resources to help the recovery undoubtedly made the disaster much more bearable for many residents," Schreier said. "They set a great example of what it means to be a good neighbor in time of need, in addition to doing cutting-edge astronomy."
Associated Universities Inc. President Ethan Schreier, far left, presents a $5,000 donation Wednesday to the Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department. Representatives are Fire Chief Buster Varner, second from left, Rescue Chief Janet Ghigo and Deputy Fire Chief John Ford, right.
Karen O’Neil, National Radio Astronomy Observatory Green Bank site director, accepts the Associated Universities Inc. Community Service Award on Wednesday, on behalf of the entire NRAO-Green Bank staff, from President Ethan Schreier, left.
During Wednesday's ceremony, AUI gave $5,000 to the Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department, represented by Fire Chief Buster Varner and Rescue Chief Janet Ghigo, in recognition of their "incredibly dedicated service in helping the community recover from the storm's devastation."
In further support of the community, AUI promised to donate however much money is needed to meet the budget for the new wellness center to be founded in Green Bank, estimated to be a minimum of $6,500.
The fast-moving storm left much of West Virginia without electrical power, phones or Internet service. Within Pocahontas County, where the observatory is located, 100 percent of the residents lost electrical power, in some cases for as long as 10 days. Telephone and Internet services also were severely disrupted throughout the recovery period.
The NRAO staff members moved swiftly to support their community and help their neighbors. Using the observatory's emergency generators, site housing and a water storage system, the staff turned the astronomical facility into an invaluable resource for support and recovery.
In the days following the storm, NRAO opened its residence hall to area residents who needed electricity for medical equipment such as oxygen tanks and other emergency apparatus. The site refrigeration systems were used to store medicines from the local clinic as well as perishable stock from local businesses, and the water supply provided drinking water for local residents throughout the disaster.
Commercial power was restored to the site just 40 hours after the storm hit, allowing the observatory to open further to the public. The observatory's bunkhouse, normally used for visiting student groups, provided residents the opportunity to shower, wash clothes and cool off from the 90-degree heat in an air-conditioned space. The cafe in the observatory's Science Center served food and provided additional air-conditioned space.
Observatory staff members also provided rooms for National Guard personnel, as well as meals and cooking and serving space for American Red Cross workers when they arrived to provide meals. The observatory's electrical power was used to recharge batteries, wheelchairs and oxygen equipment. Numerous NRAO employees volunteered to help local residents and agencies throughout the emergency.
"Our observatory became an important multipurpose resource for its neighbors in need and for the personnel helping with the recovery efforts," said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. "We're very proud of our people and commend them for their outstanding efforts on behalf of their community."
Schreier said a considerable number of people attended the award ceremony.
In attendance were local, state and national officials, including: Varner; Ghigo; Phil Lewis, southern area coordinator for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's office; Peggy Hawse, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's office; Delegates Bill Hartman and Denise Campbell, both D-Randolph; David Fleming, president of the Pocahontas County Commission; and John Ford, deputy fire chief of the Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department.
Although he was unable to attend, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall sent a letter of commendation for the NRAO-Green Bank staff, which Beasley read during the ceremony.
The NRAO is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities Inc.
- Staff Writer Joe Hoover contributed to this article.