Sandy Goes to College
- By Michael Fickes
- January 1st, 2013
As Hurricane Sandy approached the New Jersey shore at the end of October, colleges and universities across the state prepared to protect students and staff and, in many cases, take in evacuees who had lost their homes.
College Planning & Management
asked four schools in New Jersey to describe their preparations and their experiences battling the storm. They include Monmouth University in Long Branch, Georgian Court University in Lakewood, Princeton University in Princeton and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick, and other locations around the state.
For these schools, Sandy was a wind event with little rain. Still, the forecast called for destructive 50 mph sustained winds and gusts of 70 to 90 mph.
Each campus activated its emergency operations plan several days before Sandy’s arrival, with the goal of encouraging students and other campus residents who could go home or elsewhere to do so. Winnowing campus populations made it easier to maintain power, often with generators, in enough buildings to house and feed those that remained.
Each campus’s emergency operations group used mass notification technology, home pages, emergency websites, and social media to inform the community when it was time to shelter in place and to keep everyone updated about conditions.
Preparations complete, Hurricane Sandy roared ashore right on time.
The Jersey Shore
At Monmouth University, 300 of 6,000 students remained on campus when the storm hit. “All were hunkered down in on-campus residence halls,” says Paul G. Gaffney II, president of Monmouth University, in a prepared statement.
The dining hall became the incident command center, continues Gaffney. Running on generator power — the campus lost power for 10 days — the building fed staff, students, and others on campus.
At the request of state and local officials, Monmouth’s Boylan Gym and Multipurpose Activity Center served as a temporary emergency evacuation center. The facility became the state’s largest shelter. Led by the Monmouth University police chief and the County under sheriff, the shelter provided social and welfare services, medical services, counselors, and volunteers. It also housed members of the New Jersey National Guard close to the action.
Monmouth weathered the storm without injury or major damage.
In Lakewood, Georgian Court University urged the school’s 3,000 students and 600 faculty and staff to evacuate. “About 100 students, University employees, and a community of Sisters of Mercy remained on campus,” says Chief of Security Thomas Zambrano.
The worst challenge was keeping people safe from flying tree limbs and falling trees. The Georgian Court campus lost about 60 of its tall and stately trees. “We started patrolling before the storm,” Zambrano says. “When flying limbs became a danger, we notified those on campus to shelter in place. We kept our dining services open throughout the storm and delivered food to the residence halls so that only a small number of people were outside in potential danger.”
Fortunately none of the 60 trees that were downed by the storm damaged Georgian Court or neighboring property.
Zambrano says that the severity of the power outage persuaded him to purchase additional generators to keep more buildings online in the future. “We’ve had generators on campus for years,” he says. “But this time, the power was out for a long time, and after a certain number of hours you have to shut a generator down for maintenance. So you need back up generators.
“Another lesson concerns IT infrastructure. When the generator powering our IT systems went down, we lost Internet connectivity and the ability to communicate with those on campus. When we connected the replacement generator, we also had to bring in IT technicians to repair systems and reconnect to the network.
“You also need a supply of fuel to keep the generators and emergency vehicles running. Fuel was a problem in New Jersey. Gas stations couldn’t open with electricity. We’re considering a fuel
storage facility that we would fill up before a storm.”
Inland New Jersey
Princeton University was on break at the time of the storm. Only about 1,000 of the school’s 5,000 undergraduate students and 2,500 graduate students remained on campus.
“We told the students to stay inside during the storm,” says Treby Williams, assistant vice president for safety and administrative planning. “We kept one dining hall open. Students near the dining hall came in for meals. We provided cold take-out meals for those living too far away from the dining hall.”
While some Princeton buildings rely on the grid for power, many draw electricity through underground lines carrying electricity from a campus co-generation plant. Those buildings did not lose power.
Generators supported buildings that did lose power.
“We were in island mode for about 24 hours, with nothing coming off the grid,” says Williams. “We did power down a number of buildings to sustain buildings with critical services, including the occupied residence halls.”
The high winds felled 110 trees, says Williams, damaging buildings, vehicles, and fences across campus. Fortunately no one was injured.
“After the storm, the concern became getting students back to campus,” continues Williams. “We set up a bus service from the airport and to Princeton Junction, which connects to the University from the main rail line between New York and Philadelphia. A small train usually makes that run, but it was out of service.”
Monmouth, Georgian Court, and Princeton took care of relatively small populations during the storm.
By contrast, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, serves about 58,000 students, including 14,800 graduate students. Of those, about 18,000 students waited out the storm on Rutgers’ five New Brunswick campuses — three campuses in New Brunswick proper and two across the river in Piscataway.
“To prepare, we brought in extra staff and rotated duty around the clock throughout the storm,” says Steve Keleman, Rutgers’ emergency management director. “With 18,000 students on campus, we couldn’t close. We kept the dining halls and student services open. We also brought students residing off campus onto campus to sleep and eat.”
Rutgers also provided two of New Jersey’s mega shelters from Sunday when the storm struck through the following Friday, taking in evacuees from Atlantic City.
“Something we will plan for in the future — we use a number of VoIP (Voice-over-Internet-Protocol) phone systems on campus,” Keleman says. “We also have hard-wired plain old telephones. When the power went out, the VoIP phones went down, while the hard-wired phones continued to work.”
When the storm arrived, strong winds brought down lots of trees, Keleman reports. Falling trees and blowing branches covered the roads and cut power to all five campuses. Generators kept the lights, heat, and kitchens turned on.
Thanks to a 60-kV substation located on the Piscataway campus, power there came back on within 24 hours.
The New Brunswick campuses, however, get power from the grid, so it took longer to reconnect. When the power went off there, the water went off. To compensate, officials moved students to residence halls on the Piscataway side to wait out the storm.
“Before the storm, we staged vehicle and human resources for fire, medical, and other emergencies on each campus so that we could respond quickly to whatever problems arose,” Keleman says.
New Jersey state government also assigned Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) to various locations around the state, including Rutgers. “During Hurricane Irene, we discovered that some people are going to need skilled nursing care,” Keleman says. “That’s what these teams provided.”
After the storm, crews moved out to clear the roads across campus. Fuel tanks for vehicles and generators had been topped off, so there was plenty of fuel for a while. Anticipating the need for more fuel, Keleman had arranged for priority deliveries from vendors. He also dispatched individuals to check the generators to make sure each had enough fuel.
The campus television system piped movies into the residence halls and also provided regular updates on the status of the campus.
By they time Hurricane Sandy moved on to New York and other locations,lives had been lost and billions of dollars of property had been destroyed. While Monmouth, Georgian, Princeton, and Rutgers lost property, no lives were lost. In fact, the four schools reported only one injury — a sprained wrist. That’s a tribute the skills these schools displayed in preparing and in executing their emergency operations plans.
Sandy in New York City
After plowing through New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy turned its fury on New York City.
When Hurricane Sandy stormed into New York City, it struck colleges and universities in Staten Island, Manhattan, and Long Island before turning north and heading for New England.
Prior to and during the storm, Wagner College, on the northern end of Staten Island; Fordham University in Manhattan and the Bronx; and Stony Brook University on Long Island used mass notification systems to keep their respective communities up to date. Updates also went out over Facebook pages and websites.
At all three schools, students who could leave did so well before the storm arrived. About 200 students and emergency staff remained at Wagner. Fordham’s two city campuses, at Lincoln Center in Manhattan and Rose Hill in the Bronx, sheltered about 4,300 students. At Stony Brook, about 7,000 students waited Sandy out.
Wagner’s Emergency Operations Plan
A few days before the storm arrived, David Martin, vice president for administration at Wagner, activated the school’s emergency management plan. Martin authored the Wagner emergency operations plan and had managed regular tabletop exercises and live drills to make sure all of the players knew their roles.
Emergency personnel set up quarters for the remaining students in in the athletic center. The emergency operations team brought in a large-screen television, movies, board games, and electrical strips to enable everyone to charge their phones, tablets, and computers. During the stay, a couple of basketball games broke out.
A cold food serving line was set up in a long hallway next to the swimming pool. Showers were available on the lower level.
There was a nursing station with first aid and emergency prescription medications such as insulin, which was kept in a refrigerator.
“We’re on a hill, so there was no flooding here,” continues Martin. “But we did have water damage when some windows blew out. Primarily, we suffered wind damage. We lost several trees, light poles, and street signs. A lot of shingles came off, but we didn’t lose any roofs.”
One of the trees fell onto the roof of the admissions building but caused no structural damage.
When the electricity went off around 2 a.m., a generator provided enough power to maintain emergency systems — the medical station’s refrigerator and basic lighting.
A fuel shortage in the aftermath of the storm — fuel trucks couldn’t get through to fill the tanks at fueling stations — hindered the recovery. “We didn’t get back as fast as we would have liked because of that,” says Martin.
Even so, the emergency operations plan got the campus through the storm with no injuries.
Underground power lines kept Fordham University’s two city campuses up and running throughout the storm. Fordham’s Westchester campus also maintained electrical service. The University’s biological research field station, The Louis Calder Center in Armonk, did lose power, but a generator kicked in to keep things going there.
Planning for the storm began several days before. John F. Carroll, associate vice president, safety and security services and chair of the University’s emergency management team, called the team together for a face-to-face meeting. Throughout the coming days, the team continued to confer through frequent phone conferences.
“Fordham and a number of other universities in the city belong to a consortium that maintains a seat on the New York City office of emergency management operations committee,” Carroll says. “We cooperate with the other universities in the consortium to staff the university seat on the committee around the clock.
“By sitting on the committee, we all have access to information continuously. For instance, if the city plans to shut off power, I’ll know about it before it happens and can make plans.”
The Fordham emergency operations group set up teams to keep the roads and sidewalks clear. They checked out the campus generators. They had 500 cots set up in the athletic complex and arranged for activities and food to keep everyone occupied… for days, if necessary.
“We brought in an arborist to look at our trees,” Carroll says. “There are a lot of beautiful trees at Rose Hill (the Bronx campus). The arborist identified trees that might have problems and we cordoned those off. In the end, we lost 15 trees — the arborist had identified several of those.”
The trees sustained the only injuries caused by the storm. The people on campus made it through unharmed.
Despite a precarious perch on Long Island’s northern coast, Stony Brook’s Main campus made it through the storm with relatively little damage, too. The school experienced a brief power outage lasting just one hour. School officials attribute the continuous power to a campus cogeneration power plant backed up by the local power company.
The Southampton campus was another story. Students there evacuated before the storm arrived and knocked out power for a couple of days. The Manhattan campus also lost power for several days.
At the main campus, preparations made enabled the campus to house and feed New York State Troopers as well as emergency utility workers during the recovery period. The University also fulfilled a number of requests from the State Emergency Operations Center.
The students remaining on campus helped in the recovery, too, by organizing relief efforts for affected Long Island residents.
Preparations at each of these three schools enabled each to not just survive the storm but to help during the arduous recovery process.