Administration reacts quickly to wrath of Hurricane Sandy

Austin Loukas

Abbey Haldeman, Assistant News Editor

With threats of flooding once again approaching the Wilkes community, campus authorities had to find ways to keep students safe.

Hurricane Sandy approached the Wilkes-Barre region this past weekend, as it did much of the East Coast. Fortunately, Wilkes and the surrounding area went untouched by the category one hurricane dubbed “Frankenstorm.”

“Wilkes University weathered the recent storms caused by Hurricane Sandy with no damage,” President Patrick Leahy said in an email to faculty, staff and students. “Our campus was indeed fortunate to avoid significant problems.”

And, although the university made it through, it wasn’t without preparations for what may have been a repeat of what happened last year.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, the Emergency Preparedness Team, which includes Leahy, all the vice presidents, facilities, student affairs and residence life, met and discussed the weather conditions approaching. Together, they decided that it would be advantageous to close campus Monday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday, Oct. 30, due to the worst of the storm being predicted to hit some time late Monday afternoon. Students were not told to leave campus, as there was no mandatory evacuation put into place by the governor and Wilkes-Barre city officials.

Vice President of Student Affairs Paul Adams said the team as a whole wanted to find a way to keep students safe and a way of doing so was by saying the university was closing, which would lead to several of them going home prior to the worst of the storm.

Resident assistants were given the direction to meet with their residents and give them the proper information regarding what was going on at the moment and how future issues would be handled.

“Keeping track of the students that were on campus was one of the biggest concerns for Residence Life,” Director of Residence Life Elizabeth Swantek said. “Making sure that (students) understood that it could be a severe situation.”

For those students who remained on campus, they went under a state of low occupancy. Rules under low occupancy included no guests permitted into the residence halls, checking in and out with RA’s at all times and letting one’s RA know if you were to leave campus.

The city of Wilkes-Barre issued a curfew for 9 p.m. Monday night. Students who had to be out of their residence halls during that time were only able to walk through campus if escorted by a public safety officer.

With the threat of power loss, university officials had to come up with a course of action.

“We always worry about the river, but we were able to have some predictions that indicated that, it probably wasn’t going to be our biggest problem,” Adams said. “We are probably most concerned about losing power on campus.”

In the case that the power would go, due to predictions of a longer period of darkness, students would be moved from their residence halls to buildings on campus that have generators. This including the Marts gym, University Center on Main, Evans and Roth halls and the Student Union Building.

Students were issued front door keys to their buildings in the event that they would not have swipe card access. They were also given a list of things to bring with them if they were to relocate and encouraged to keep their cell phones and laptops fully charged.

“We had a good game plan with the help of our colleges,” Swantek said.

During the duration of the low occupancy period, most things continued as normal.

“All of our RA’s remained on campus, so technically, the halls weren’t closed, they were still open, food services was operational, the fitness center had hours for students, the library had hours,” Assistant Director of Residence Life Danielle Kern said. “So, the halls weren’t closed, all of the RA’s remained on campus so that students didn’t have to evacuate the residents halls that they live in.”

When the emergency preparedness team met again on Tuesday afternoon they determined that the worst of the storm had passed and it would ok for everything to open back up again.

Wilkes weathered the storm, although other places were not as lucky. Several students had families that were affected by the storm. Relief efforts are being made by the university to help those in need.

T-shirt sales are taking place through which the proceeds will go to those in need. Some time in the future, when it is safe, there is a goal to send students to New York and New Jersey to help those affected by the storm.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by this historic storm,” Leahy said. “Members of the Wilkes community struggling with its effects remain in our thoughts.”