When the College of William and Mary notified students Tuesday, Sept. 11 that all residence halls must be empty by 5 p.m. the following day, members of Student Assembly began brainstorming what they could do to help. The result was an online form that students could fill out if they needed a ride or had extra space in their car.
According to Class of 2021 President Dave DeMarco ’21, he had the idea for the form almost as soon as the first TribeAlert message was sent that day.
“I was eating at Sadler at the time, and in realizing how myopic my evacuation plan was, I looked around the dining hall and quickly figured I was not alone,” DeMarco said in a written response. “With everyone frantically calling their family and grasping for last-minute rides, I knew it was our job as SA to create a support system to facilitate the evacuation and aid our poorly thought-out emergency plans. It is simply our job to serve.”
All classes were cancelled after 12:30 p.m. Sept. 11, and students were encouraged to prep their rooms and common spaces of their residence halls for evacuation. The TribeAlert message also contained a check list for students living in basement or first-floor rooms, including advice to clear windowsills and pick up extension cords that were on the floor.
After this alert, SA class presidents sent out the form on various social media platforms and through class Listservs. The form was also posted in the Facebook page “Swampy Memes for Twampy Teens.”
“All of the class presidents sent out emails to their class listservs asking people who needed rides to fill out a form and people who were able to give rides to fill out a form,” Class of 2019 President Sikander Zakriya ’19 said in a written response. “We also used Facebook groups such as TribeRides, our class groups, and Swampy Memes to publicize the forms so we could cover as many students as possible.”
Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 said she thought the rideshare forms were effective, and that SA was able to act quickly with little preparation.
“Considering the short amount of time we had to put the system together, I think it was decently effective,” Vita said in a written response. “During the first set of forms, we had around one hundred students offer to give rides, and most people who requested a ride were matched. However, the rides back to campus form was not as great of a success, as we had less students offering to give rides and a lot of students requesting rides the morning of.”
Vita said that if SA chose to do something similar in the future, she would like to see SA implement a more defined time frame for the form to be open, so students would not be requesting rides the same day they needed them. She also said that she would like to see SA help students develop more concrete evacuation plans, especially for out-of-state students.
“There are always opportunities for creative improvements,” DeMarco said in a written statement. “Often, organizations like to throw money at issues to create solutions, but this is not always necessary. We have a tight-knit community here at [William and Mary], and sometimes all we need is a structure in place to tap into that community. I was gleefully horrified when the “Need Rides” form started getting responses. While we were now able to help these people, the forms’ abundant use indicated a large hole in our support/security system here at [William and Mary]. There is much more to do to be better prepared for disasters.”
Zakriya said he was proud of the work that SA did to help students, to supplement the College’s evacuation plan and to bring back to students to campus after the mandatory evacuation was over.
“I think SA stepped up in a big way to fill in a gap in the administration’s plan to evacuate and to bring back students to campus after the evacuation,” Zakriya said in a written response. “Unfortunately, SA had to gather the same information that the administration already had in the mandatory Emergency Evacuation Plans we all had to fill out. This took some unnecessary time and hassle but we were successful in the end in matching as many students as we could with rides. It seems to me the administration has some thinking to do when it comes to evaluating their evacuation plans for the future as a student led approach, while effective, cannot cover everyone and doesn’t have the same resources as the school could employ in ensuring students’ safety.”