By Kenna Caprio
With diesel trucks on standby, generators hooked up, and Facilities, Residence Life, Public Safety staff and the provosts ready for action, Fairleigh Dickinson University prepared to brave whatever Hurricane Sandy wrought.
“We started prepping both campuses several days ahead of the storm,” says Richard Frick, associate vice president for facilities. “We ordered two large generators for each campus.” In anticipation of the storm, facilities also pruned trees, removed or secured objects on the grounds, fastened rooftop equipment and provided plastic coverings to each department.
“Collectively, we should be proud of the way that we handled the emergency,” he continues.
Luckily despite losing power for approximately a week — with the exception of a few flooded vehicles and several felled trees — both New Jersey campuses of the University sustained little damage. Students, faculty and staff made it through the historic storm safely.
“I’m very impressed by how well all the different staff worked with each other,” said College at Florham Provost Peter Woolley. “It’s not just that Facilities or Residence Life did a good job, but also that they informed each other and helped one another out.”
At the post-Sandy meeting of the Campus Emergency Management Team on the Metropolitan Campus, Provost Joseph Kiernan echoed Woolley’s sentiments, lauding all those who stayed on campus during the storm and in the days following.
“The safety of the students is our primary concern,” said Kiernan. “It was a serious emergency. We had a lot of students on campus, all in one building every night. And everything went just fine.”
The Campus Emergency Management Teams on each campus meet pre- and post- “crisis” to implement advance preparations and then evaluate the outcome. The groups also meet at least once a year during times of non-emergency.
In the case of a storm, advance preparation includes alerting students to the incoming inclement weather, while encouraging them to do laundry, move their cars away from trees or flood zones and fill their cars with gasoline. “All of that comes in handy when you may be without power for awhile,” said Jas Verem, dean of students at the College at Florham. “We also encourage those who can go home safely to do so.”
Meanwhile, Residence Life staffs on both campuses stocked up on flashlights, batteries, extension cords and water. Gourmet Dining, which provides food service to FDU, prepped and stored extra food at the Student Center and Student Union Building — both of which house the dining halls and have generators.
Once the storm hit on Monday night, the water near Northpointe residence hall on the Metropolitan Campus rose higher than ever, Kiernan said.
“We got water where we never had it before,” he said. Though the entire North Lot near that residence hall flooded — surrounding the building — the water stopped at the door and receded with the tide. “The water reached the base of Robison Hall. It was approximately two feet of water,” Kiernan noted. Both campuses lost many trees, but neither sustained any building damage.
After each campus lost power, Residence Life staff and resident assistants moved students to the Ferguson Recreation Center at the College at Florham and Student Union Building on the Metropolitan Campus. Both buildings were hooked up to generators. During the day, those housed at the Rec Center could go to the Student Center to eat or hang out.
Approximately 300 students at the College at Florham roughed it in the Rec Center while about 250 students stayed on the Metropolitan Campus in the Student Union Building.
As the week progressed and gasoline shortages were reported, the University made the decision to shut down the generators at the Rothman Center and Rec Center to conserve diesel. At this time, more students ventured home or to a friend’s house for the duration of the aftermath.
Though neither campus knew exactly when to expect power restoration, Peter Bonasia, mechanical/electrical/plumbing manager for Buildings and Grounds on the Metropolitan Campus, successfully contacted the school’s account representative at the power company and stressed the priority of getting the lights back on.
Throughout the ordeal, students and staff stayed positive. Resident assistants coordinated activities to keep students occupied: games and guitars came out at the College at Florham.
“We also hosted an animal shelter here,” said Verem, half-kidding. Students brought their fish and hamsters from the dorms to stay in the Student Center. Those animals, along with the cats and dogs of the Residence Life staff, provided a calming distraction.
At the Metropolitan Campus, resident assistants organized an impromptu Halloween celebration and opened the Knight Club Gameroom in the Student Union Building.
“If you have food and Facebook, you’re halfway there,” Kiernan joked. “Heat and lights come second.”
By Sunday, Nov. 4, power was restored to the entirety of the Metropolitan Campus. Following the restoration, Public Safety officers toured the campus on Sunday and Monday, Nov. 5, completing security checks including evaluating sprinkler systems and fire alarms in each building. The campus reopened on Tuesday, Nov. 6, after the inspections. It took longer for the electricity to come back on at the College at Florham, but by Tuesday, Nov. 6, the power was on and safety assessments finished. Students and staff returned on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
“The important thing is to have the protocols in place before there’s any warning of a storm. And they are,” said Woolley.
During the storm, members of the FDU community received email updates from both provosts and Interim University President Sheldon Drucker and FDU Alert voicemails and text messages. All pertinent information was also made available on the FDU website.
“All in all, the students understood that beyond the Student Union Building, a lot of people were in worse shape than they were in,” said Kiernan.
Because students missed more than a week of classes, changes have been made to the academic calendar, extensions granted for filing for May 2013 graduation (Dec. 10), and new dates for priority registration for spring classes established (Nov. 12-30).
“During times like this, strong communities pull close together and that is what happened here,” said Drucker. “The teamwork was incredible to watch. All who were called upon to serve the institution were extraordinary in every way.”