Even though Van der Heijden has been in over her head with this crisis for many weeks now, she still sounds cheerful and energetic when we call her. The kitchen table in Berlicum, at the center of her house, is currently her work spot: "I could go up to the attic, but there are also two children around who want to ask me things every now and then."
Her sons (one in grade five, one in grade seven) both received a nice package of home instructions when the schools closed. “We have a planning board that always shows the schedule for the day: work or learn, eat fruit together, have a sandwich, go for a walk together at noon. That fixed structure works very well for us.” Van der Heijden’s husband, who works for our national defense, currently also works from home as much as possible. And so far, so good, she says. “We were lucky - or not, depending on how you look at it - that our youngest had been ill since carnival and kept on coughing. He has been home for three weeks, so we were already used to that situation.”
However, she still has to get used to working from home and, in her current role as a crisis team member, still has to process the corona rush on campus last week. “Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, our team has been working non-stop. For four weeks we have basically been locked up in an atmosphere of enormous dedication and togetherness. I do miss that now I’m working from home.”
Which of us are in China, how can we bring people back asap, what does this mean for our travel advice to students and employees? Van der Heijden stresses that decisions had to be taken about this at an early stage of the corona outbreak. Meanwhile, the virus quickly spread further and further. “As a crisis team, we immediately started preparing various scenarios, including a total closure of the campus. What would that mean for us? And which business-critical processes do we need to continue, apart from education and research? Think, for example, of payrolling, or security.”
No pandemic plan
The TU/e had no plan ready to use for a pandemic like this one, Van der Heijden says. “As a university we do have a crisis plan, but that is mainly focused on current affairs, like what needs to be done in case of a fire or explosion, for example. There was no plan for a corona epidemic lasting for weeks.”
This is one of the reasons why, according to her, despite their diverse characteristics and campuses, Dutch universities started working together at an early stage: “Teaching hospitals do have a pandemic plan, for example. We decided to see what such a plan could mean for our universities.”
At TU/e there are currently around fifty people active in the crisis organization, with all disciplines represented. It also contains a core team of about fifteen people, also known as the central crisis team (CCT), which, according to Van der Heijden, continuously exchanges information, developments and thoughts via a Whatsapp group and has a meeting at least once a day through Skype. The team works according to a well-known decision-making model for crisis situations, called BOB, a Dutch abbreviation for Imaging, Judgment and Decision-making. “As a central crisis team, we build our agenda around that.” In addition, there is frequent coordination with, among other parties, the university umbrella organization VSNU and the GGD (Municipal Health Services).
Hard to let go
It is difficult to let that ongoing hotline cool down a bit and ignore it from time to time, Van der Heijden acknowledges. “We have agreed that there is a back-up for everyone and that everyone should be able to check out every now and then. We also accept that from each other, but the implementation of that policy proves to be difficult. We are all so much involved that we are unable to let go.”
But, she also says: “You have to. We try to go for a walk here around lunchtime every day; a moment I really put my laptop away. In the evening we have a few TV shows that we like to watch as a family, then we also put our phones away and we don't answer when someone calls. We really try to plan such moments.” She finds it especially difficult to schedule her own time, ‘that Floor time’. You are all day with the four of you, between those four walls; you can't do fun things with friends. We have to find a mode to handle that.”
She does go to the store if necessary, “but my father and mother are not allowed to come here, for example. We don’t enter their house either. Especially my father finds that frustrating; he occasionally waves in front of the window. But I would just hate it if something happens to them. A couple of days ago, the father of a friend died as a result of the coronavirus. Another friend works at the GP center, all of them work extra night shifts now. We also hear those stories; are aware of the other side of the coin that many other people may not see now that they are in the house all day.”
This is one of the reasons why the family takes as little risk as possible. “I sometimes see children standing close to each other in the playground, but you won’t find our children there. They are not allowed to meet up with friends now, no matter how difficult that is for them.” Van der Heijden speaks of unique times, “we have never experienced anything with such great consequences for every individual. That leaves an imprint, yes. I also try to be aware of that, as well as of the beautiful initiatives that arise everywhere. My children will think back to this crisis later: remember when we were home all together so much? I hope they will also remember the positive things. ”