Hurricane Sandy threatened to interrupt the flood of green and gold to campus during Homecoming weekend and caused the cancellation of classes Monday.
As students and alumni tailgated for the football game against the University of Maine in celebration of Homecoming, Vice President of Administration Anna Martin sent a campus-wide email updating students on the storm and cancelling classes for Monday.
The storm, travelling up from the Carribean, had extremely low barometric pressure, which generally accompanies a storm with substantially high winds. Early projections of the storm suggested that it might have a greater impact than Hurricane Irene did in 2011.
Sunday through Tuesday, the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport recorded a total accumulation of 7.31 inches of rain as a result of the hurricane. There was no substantial damage to campus and only one dorm, Ludwell, lost power for 30 minutes on Monday.
The Emergency Management Team, headed by Martin, chose not to evacuate campus but decided to cancel classes on Monday instead. According to Martin, the decision was based solely on the weather conditions.
“Homecoming does not play a role in that decision,” Martin said.
Classes resumed Tuesday. In an email to students, faculty and staff, Martin indicated that people were to use their best judgment on whether to return to campus. Staff members who were unable to return to campus were granted leave without the need to receive prior approval.
“All in all, we came through the storm fairly well,” Director of University Relations Brian Whitson said in an email. “No other power outages. No trees down. No significant flooding. No damage. Sandy spared this region the worst of the storm.”
Neighboring universities also shut down operations during the storm. Christopher Newport University evacuated campus and cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday, but reopened by 8 a.m. Wednesday. Old Dominion University also evacuated. In Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University cancelled classes Monday but resumed operations Tuesday.
College officials noted that they were aware of the decisions of other schools in the area, but did not base their decision solely on others.
“Each campus is unique — and the impact of the storm can vary greatly across the region, even over just a few miles — so while we monitor what other schools are doing we make decisions based on the best information we have regarding this specific area,” Whitson said.
Martin admitted that she received some complaints from students about the decision to not evacuate and the decision to hold classes on Tuesday.
“When we’re preparing for a storm, we look at all possible scenarios,” Martin said. “What we knew, the information we had, made us believe that we did not need to evacuate.”
Erin Bennett ’13 sent Martin an email expressing her concern for students’ safety.
“I just asked her to please consider the people who are out of town,” Bennett said. “I told her, ‘I want you to be aware of what we’re all thinking.’”
Martin’s email to students on Monday stated that students should use their own judgment for returning to campus, but Bennett felt that it put students who had evacuated at a huge disadvantage.
“When you leave it up to the professors to decide, you’re putting a lot of students in a bad position because they don’t want to get behind,” Bennett said. “I just felt bad for those who were unlucky enough to not have classes cancelled.”
Bennett noted that, for students who remained on campus, Tuesday’s weather was suitable for classes.
“For the most part, by Tuesday morning, we knew they made the right decision,” Bennett said.
Many students were frustrated at the timing of the notification for Tuesday’s classes. In an email sent on Monday, Martin wrote that the decision regarding Tuesday’s classes would be made by Monday afternoon, but the email regarding Tuesday’s classes was sent 5:24 p.m. Monday.
For students who evacuated, the timing presented a problem. One student, Jennifer Giuffrida ’13, evacuated to Baltimore for the storm.
“The only thing that annoyed me is that she waited so late to let us know,” Giuffrida said. “To get back to campus, I ended up driving through a bad part of the storm.”
After the announcement, social media exploded with references to Anna Martin, including memes and a parody Twitter account, Anna B McMartin. The Twitter account gained 123 followers by Tuesday.
According to administrators, the College’s decisions regarding the hurricane were based on inspection of the storm’s path and conditions. The Emergency Management Team began to monitor the growing tropical storm early last week.
“Discussions with various departments such as our facilities teams began very early in the process to make sure we could do as much preparations in advance,” Whitson said. “We met as a group on Thursday to assess the status of the storm and likely impact to campus and consulted with the Provost and President throughout the process. The EMT met regularly during the storm.”
Even after classes resumed Tuesday, the hurricane created some hurdles for undergraduates enrolled in the business block at the Mason School of Business. The annual simulation week, during which students create and manage a business through an online simulation, was altered due to power outages.
“We had to adjust the schedule based on Monday’s cancellation of classes, and then yesterday, as the servers that run the game lost power — they are located in the Northeast and were affected by the outages there following Sandy,” Christopher Adkins, Director of the Undergraduate Program at the Mason School of Business, said in an email.
The servers resumed power at 9 p.m. Wednesday night, and students were able to finish an abbreviated version of the simulation.
Despite the interruptions to campus life, no incident reports were filed with the police due to the weather.
“It was quiet, we were fortunate to miss the worst of the storm and get back to classes and work on Tuesday,” Williamsburg Chief of Police Don Challis said in an email.