It’s been six days since Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast region leaving millions of residents in the Mid-Atlantic states coping with the aftermath. With roughly 1,700 Emory students’ families affected by the storm, Emory’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) identified areas of safe refuge on campus in an effort to improve the Emory community’s preparedness.
Eric Klaber, a College freshman, says his parents in Mamaroneck, N.Y. have been out of power since the hurricane struck the coast and will not receive power for at least another week.
“My parents considered evacuating but chose not to because gasoline is currently being rationed off, and they don’t have enough gas to drive anywhere,” Klaber said. “They are stuck in the house without power. Luckily, the fireplace is working.”
With more than 18 percent of the Emory student body from the Mid-Atlantic region and 5 percent from New England, the aftermath of the hurricane has affected many students and their families both physically and emotionally.
“It’s hard to be here in Atlanta where nothing has happened and hear about what my parents are going through,” Klaber said. “[My parents] literally cannot move. They are huddled by the living room fireplace hoping it doesn’t go out. It’s surreal.”
Hurricane Sandy, the eighteenth named storm of the 2012 season, was the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
According to an Oct. 31 Wall Street Journal article, the aftermath of the storm is estimated to have caused upwards of $20 billion in damage to the Northeast region.
Following the first hours of the storm’s aftermath, many Emory students had difficulty contacting family and friends due to the widespread blackouts and cell tower damage.
Mark Leone, a College freshman, could not get in touch with his parents for more than 12 hours after the hurricane made landfall.
“When I heard that both cell phone service and electricity went out in Lower Manhattan, I was concerned I would not be able to contact my parents,” Leone said. “Fortunately, they were able to contact me by leaving their neighborhood to get cell service.”
As relief efforts began in the Northeast, most affected students have been able to establish contact with their parents.
However, the effects of the hurricane have forced families to adapt until certain services can be restored.
It is now common practice to bring phone chargers and even power strips to restaurants to charge electronics, according to Klaber.
Sandy Shuts Down Northeast Colleges
Although some students at Emory were indirectly affected by the storm, dozens of colleges throughout the Mid-Atlantic were forced to shut down and cancel classes in response to the hurricane.
Several media sources have estimated that more than 1.2 million college students were directly affected by the storm.
The University of Virginia, New York University, Penn State, Georgetown, Maryland, Boston, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania along with many other Northeastern universities canceled classes in response to the hurricane.
Schools in the Northeast have not taken decisions to close down lightly. Harvard University canceled classes for the first time in 34 years.
The Harvard Crimson discussed how the school has been very reluctant in the past to close down.
In 1977 the former Dean of Students at Harvard, Archie C. Epps III, said that, “Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world.”
The last weather-related incident that canceled classes at Harvard was the historic blizzard of 1978.
The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) sent an email to students advising them to close their windows and remain indoors during the hurricane according to Chad Klitzman, a College freshman at Penn. Klitzman left Penn prior to Sandy’s landfall to join his family in Manhattan during the storm.
“Many students on campus had never been through a hurricane before,” Klitzman said. “It came as a bit of a shock. Many students were very worried. The school even set up a counseling area for students who were distressed by the storm.”
Following the hurricane, many colleges – including Penn – have resumed normal operations and begun classes again.
Emory’s Hurricane Preparedness
The Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) coordinates responses to catastrophic events that face the Emory community, including hurricanes.
CEPAR has recently begun a campaign to advise members of the Emory community as to where they can seek safe refuge on campus in the event of dangerous weather.
In a push to improve campus preparedness, CEPAR coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine the architectural guidelines that define a safe weather refuge. The office then identified areas on campus that followed the aforementioned guidelines that could be labeled as areas of safe refuge.
“We received feedback from a lot of folks that they really didn’t know where to go [in an emergency],” said Samuel Shartar, senior administrator for CEPAR. “They understood the concepts of going to the lowest floor and staying away from windows – but they didn’t know where the best location would be.”
In response to the confusion, a total of 275 signs will be posted around Emory’s main campus as well as the Oxford and Grady campuses to identify safe refuge rooms or hallways.
The rooms will also be highlighted on the building evacuation plan diagrams.
Signs have already been posted on Emory’s Cliff Shuttles to inform the community about the new severe weather refuge signs.
Shartar explained that the new signs will better protect the Emory community in a dangerous weather event.
When severe weather arises, CEPAR continuously monitors the dangerous weather by coordinating with both the National Weather Service and Telvent DTN, a private weather monitoring firm, to allow CEPAR to monitor weather 24 hours a day if needed, according to Shartar.
“With [Hurricane Sandy] we were monitoring this storm as it was coming through, obviously it became apparent that there was no threat to Georgia or Emory but had it been a threat we would have continued to monitor it,” said Sharter. “This far inland, we don’t have the same risk you would typically see in a coastal region. What we would potentially face is heavy rain and urban flash flooding, dangerous winds or tornados that are spawned from the storm.”
Shartar said that when CEPAR is continually monitoring activity that can be potentially threatening to Emory, if necessary, the office can quickly advise the community to seek shelter through the Emory emergency notification system.
The system would advise students and faculty to seek shelter immediately. For example, on average, CEPAR issues 2-3 tornado warnings through the notification system to the Emory community every year.
“We plan for all hazards,” said Shartar. “We will take whatever action as needed to take care of the Emory community.”
For more information regarding what to do in an emergency at Emory visit: emergency.emory.edu
– By Dustin Slade