Hurricane Sandy, boasting maximum winds of 90 mph, has caused at least 55 deaths and an estimated $20 billion in damages, USA TODAY reported Wednesday morning.
The storm left more than 8 million without power. Streets flooded as emergency workers rescued and assisted residents of affected communities.
And at the same time, colleges and universities made the safety of their students and faculty a top priority.
A fallen tree blocks a street in the wake of Hurricane Sandy Oct. 30, 2012 in the American University neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Schools close as hurricane approaches
Colleges across the Northeast canceled classes and on-campus events and activities Monday, and some schools remained closed for part or all of Tuesday. Other colleges in areas facing greater damage — including New York and New Jersey — will remain closed until later this week or through the weekend.
“Providing this information now, we hope, will allow all members of our community to plan ahead and, in some cases at least, to relocate to more comfortable environs,” New York University President John Sexton said in a statement regarding the decision to close the school until next Monday. “For those who remain, we will continue to do all we can to ease the days ahead.”
At American University in Washington, D.C., the Emergency Response Team came to a decision to close the school for Monday and Tuesday after evaluating the condition of the campus and public transportation in the area as well as the predicted impact of the storm, Maralee Csellar, the school’s associate director for media relations, wrote in an email on behalf of the Emergency Response Team.
In staying up-to-date on the storm’s path, American University’s Emergency Response Team consulted satellite imagery as well as local weather forecasts and emergency management officials.
Likewise, the Crisis Management Team at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has met several times since Friday to discuss the storm and its potential consequences, said Maureen Rush, the school’s vice president for public safety.
“Weather reports were pretty conclusive that this was not going to be a good storm,” Rush said, adding that the team made the decision Saturday to close the school on Monday and Tuesday. “We didn’t want to have to make decisions last minute; we wanted to be out there and be proactive.”
While many schools simply advised students to remain indoors, a few schools issued mandatory evacuations for students. The University of Bridgeport, located in Connecticut’s coastal Fairfield County, required students residing in North and South Halls to take shelter at a nearby elementary school, The Connecticut Post reported. All other students were taken to neighboring Sacred Heart University.
Communication is key
Schools have communicated with students throughout the storm through online bulletins, emails, text messages and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep them up-to-date on operating statuses and the storm’s path.
“In an emergency, the university uses the communication tools we have at our disposal in as timely a manner as possible,” Csellar said.
Many colleges utilized existing emergency alert systems to provide urgent information to students and faculty as quickly as possible throughout the hurricane.
Penn, for example, used the UPenn Alert emergency notification system to send university-wide text messages and emails within minutes, Rush said.
“They basically gave us the straight-up facts,” Penn junior Ernest Owens said, adding that the alert system provided updates on whether campus facilities such as the dining hall would remain open.
In addition, Rush said the school’s public safety website became “the bulletin board” for all relevant information.
Csellar said American University also used Facebook and Twitter to provide updates to students and established a Hurricane Sandy Resource and Information Webpage, which provides important safety reminders and information on the university’s operating status.
To ensure student safety, schools have provided hurricane preparation advice online and through mass emails.
A Columbia University statement read that the Columbia community should “stay informed about conditions, exercise caution if travel is necessary and remain indoors if possible in light of predicted high winds and heavy rains.”
And, other schools such as Yale University in New Haven, Conn., have mandated curfews for students. The Emergency Operations Center at Yale required students to stay in their residence halls starting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, The Yale Daily News reported.
In many cases, though, students have been exercising their own precautions. Boston University junior Eve Boyle said she made sure she had “water and snacks in case the power went out.”
Owens, meanwhile, ensured that his friends stayed safe, too. He invited one of his best friends who lives off campus to stay with him for two nights, as the storm passed through and eventually died down.
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