Students at the College of William and Mary were first contacted about a hurricane that was expected to move up the east coast Thursday, Oct 25. This communication was the first in a series of blunders on the part of the College’s Emergency Management Team that left students first confused, then frustrated.
The team first began monitoring Hurricane Sandy Tuesday — two days before students were even contacted about the storm. The team should have contacted students as soon as it began monitoring the storm and should be told students immediately of the potential for evacuation if the storm was expected to be dangerous.
In an email sent Friday, students were told they should not expect to be evacuated and that classes likely would be held on Monday. This information changed in an email sent on Saturday, which cancelled classes for Monday but reiterated there were no plans to evacuate the College. The email did, however, provide an extensive protocol to follow in the case of a power outage.
We believe the decision not to evacuate the College was reckless in light of the severe forecast. Christopher Newport University closed campus at 11 a.m. Saturday morning as a precaution after the entire area was predicted to lose power.
As students at the College, we feel the administration made the decision to keep students on campus not because of any forecast, but because of homecoming.If the College had lost power, students would have been forced to walk to the non-centrally located Commons Dining Hall which has back-up generators for meals. The Student Recreation Center can also be powered by generators, but we do not understand this decision based on the Rec Center’s proximity to the Caf. If campus had lost power, Resident Assistants would have been forced to stand a twenty-four hour fire watch and to ensure that students could access the building after the battery power in the swipe access ran out. Regardless of whether the student is an RA, no student at the College should be responsible for the round-the-clock watch.
With the likelihood of power outages, many students were frightened into returning home. These students were inconvenienced further when the College waited until nearly 5 p.m. Monday evening to announce that campus would operate on its regular schedule Tuesday. As the worst of Sandy hit late Monday night, students were forced to choose between attending classes Tuesday morning or returning to campus during the hurricane. Even colleges such as the University of Richmond cancelled early morning classes. If the Emergency Management Team felt the campus would likely be able to resume its normal schedule Tuesday, it should have made students aware of it earlier in the day.
Whether due to a prioritization of Homecoming celebrations over students’ safety or simply to poor communication, we believe the Emergency Management Team at the College failed to act in the best interests of the students last weekend. Thankfully, Sandy’s effects were not strongly felt at the College; however, we hope that in the future, College administrators will act more effectively to ensure all students are safe.
Editor’s Note: Katherine Chiglinsky recused herself from this editorial in order to remain unbiased in her reporting.