Students are thundering about weather preparedness on campus

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September 13, 2010

11:26 PM

As classes march forward the hurricane scare seems like a distant event, and like many other students I was guilty of having the slight hope that classes would be cancelled. To my dismay, they were not. In all seriousness, I was fairly shocked that classes weren’t cancelled. As a south Florida native I have seen firsthand the destructive capabilities of hurricanes, and the negligence that the College of William and Mary demonstrated baffled me.

When hurricanes hit Florida, they knock out power for a few days, and in some cases power has been lost for a couple of weeks. So what? The Williamsburg community would handle power outages if they occurred, right? Perhaps, but Virginia — unlike my home state — relies primarily on above-ground power cables. South Florida has had underground power cables that get disrupted less easily for the past decade or two, and we still lose power for a few days. Had Earl actually hit Williamsburg we would have seen downed cables, uprooted trees and massive flooding. After all, the path from the Randolph Complex to the Crim Dell already sees regular flooding. The wreckage of an actual hurricane would have taken weeks — not days — to clear.

Because Earl did not hit us, there was no wreckage to clear and no one suffered downed power cables. In fact Earl steered relatively clear of us, leaving us to suffer only a cloudy evening, a morning drizzle and moderate winds. Our good fortune, however, does not absolve the College from poor choices that could have resulted in property damage and injuries for both students and faculty. Testing the emergency contact systems was not sufficient preparation. Windows should have been shuttered, orders for window air conditioning units to be temporarily removed should have been issued, and evacuation plans and preparations should have been made. At the very least, vulnerable windows should have been taped with duct tape. Even advising students to buy bottled water, flashlights and batteries would have helped everyone prepare for the storm.

In comparison, the military ordered premature evacuation of military bases and headquarters on the eastern seaboard. New Englanders, who were at significantly lower risk than we mid-Atlantic residents, also evacuated. The College community, despite having been listed as being at high risk, did not or even perform minor safety preparations.

This hurricane scare reminded me of the harsh winter storms we had last year. Despite the thick ice that covered all of the sidewalks and roads, the College cancelled only one day of classes after the worst of the storm had already been seen and students began calling in to complain about safety hazards. This decision attests to a strong mindset that the College seems to have: strict adherence to the schedule, regardless of potential hazards. The College administration has clearly shown that the ship it runs is a tight one, without room for even safety precautions. When Katrina hit New Orleans, no one was prepared — and as a result of the lack of preparation and the dangerous levy preconditions, New Orleans was devastated. Now, I’m not trying to equate the damage from Katrina to the hypothetical damage we would have seen, but I was under the impression that the nation had learned an important lesson from that national disaster. Apparently, not everyone took that lesson to heart.

It’s high time the College changed its top priority to the wellbeing of the members of the College — students, professors, maintenance, cafeteria workers and all others alike — all of whom were put in danger by the school’s lack of concern for safety.

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