Students, staff discuss hurricane preparedness
Alicia Lee experienced Hurricane Sandy in 2012 while living on the Rutgers campus. Power was knocked out for on-campus buildings for several days and classes were canceled for a week, said the School of Engineering senior.
Hurricane Sandy knocked the power out from 2.4 million households in 2012. It also caused damage to numerous towns, and New Jersey residents are still recovering three years later.
But Rutgers University is prepared for the next hurricane, said Steve Keleman, the director of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). OEM has several plans online, including one designed to handle weather emergencies.
“Because an emergency may occur at any time and involve any number of students or staff, the plan takes the entire university population into account,” Keleman said in an email.
A system at the University, called the Emergency Notification System (ENS), sends out text messages to update students about emergencies, Keleman said. It can be used in conjunction with a student listserv and updates on social media to keep students informed about conditions and whether their campus is open.
According to ENS's website, students must sign up and keep their phone numbers up-to-date to receive these notifications. Students can also check the operating status website or emergency management to see if the University is open or not on any given day, he said.
Lee said she would expect the University to update students as news comes if a future hurricane reaches New Jersey, but did not hear much officially the last time one did.
“Information mostly came from word-of-mouth,” she said. “Whoever heard something came and told everyone else.”
Lee could not receive text messages at the time and does not know how widely used or effective ENS was, she said.
Lee expects Rutgers to alert students about potential hurricanes and tell them what they should do when it hits. They should also tell students what the University’s contingency plans are.
“During a severe storm, like a hurricane, the University will open its Emergency Operations Center,” Keleman said. “(It) will be staffed by individuals (who) will prioritize calls and dispatch resources through the Public Safety Communications Center.”
Students can also contact the Rutgers University Police Department for both emergencies and non-emergencies.
These methods of communication will be used to keep students updated on post-hurricane situations, such as class cancellations and revised testing dates, Keleman said.
Lee said she hoped the University would be able to keep in touch with students due to how much they rely on the Internet now. Text messaging will likely be the most effective way to keep in touch with students.
Having members of the police department go around and keep students updated when it is safe to do so would also help, said Bayron Jaramillo, a School of Engineering sophomore. If they are able to drive around the different campuses, they could update students on emergency and other relevant situations.
Having people go around to fix any physical issues on campus would also help, he said. Construction crews could fix damaged pipes or walls.
Rutgers should also cancel class if conditions are dangerous, Lee said. They might not want to if they do not actually have to, as seen with how late classes were canceled last year during snowstorms.
Preparations for a storm include bringing in extra supplies and personnel before the storm strikes, Keleman said. These items would include fuel and food.
Lee said she was not sure whether utilities such as hot water were affected during the last storm, but there was running water in the residence halls.
“In that case I might go back home just because the area where I live has a food market,” she said. “So the area has to have power quickly. If I don’t have power ... or hot water in my dorm, it’d be hard to survive because I cook.”
Given the amount of research projects that take place at the University, OEM will work with Rutgers Environmental Health and Safety (REHS) to ensure none are disrupted too much, Keleman said. Ongoing projects that cannot be paused and are dependent on power will be relocated to buildings with emergency power supplies.
Other projects will be delayed or otherwise secured, he said.
“A refueling plan is in place for the generators ... to maintain emergency power,” he said.