Hurricane Irene Hits St. Mary's

This past weekend Maryland experienced Hurricane Irene in the middle of St. Mary’s Orientation. The torrential downpour and 75 mph winds delayed orientation activities and move-in for returning students. Irene’s main destruction hit Saturday night, forcing the school to push back move in day until Aug. 29 and the first day of classes to Aug. 30. To accommodate first day delay, classes will be held on Labor Day.

During the storm the school had many students for whom they were responsible, not only first-year students who were on campus for orientation but also early returners.  The College dealt with the hurricane by utilizing the Emergency Response Team chaired by Laura Bayless, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. The team plans for emergencies and maintains a before, during, and after response protocol. “Seventy two, 48, 24, 12 hours before the event…what are you doing? What about during and after?,” said Bayless. The Emergency Response team includes the Director of Public Safety; Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life; the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs; the Health and Safety officer; the Assistant Vice President of Campus Operations; a representative from CTSS and Public Relations; the Assistant Vice President of Grounds; the Director of Bon-Appetit; Kelly Schroeder; and the Vice President for Planning Facilities. The President’s Cabinet also aided in developing the Emergency Response Plan.

In the case of Hurricane Irene, the plan was to keep the students who were on campus as safe as possible. Students were required to check in to their Resident Assistants (RAs) Saturday between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., and during this time they received food and water. At 7:00 p.m. a mandatory lock down took place during which students were to remain inside their residences from 7:00 p.m. Saturday until 3 p.m. Sunday. The college kept students, parents, and staff alerted to the hurricane precautions via e-mail, a policy which worked well until the power went down around 5 p.m. on Saturday.

While most students waited out the storm in their residences, Professional Staff, Maintenance Staff, Public Safety Staff and Residence Life staff worked around the clock to keep students safe and comfortable. “Professional Staff gave each Residence Hall Coordinator (RHC) a mountain of paperwork-fliers to post around the residence halls, roster to sign students in, and copies of the College’s hurricane protocol. The RAs headed by the RHC took attendance of everyone in the building including the “refugees” from the evacuated Calvert Hall and elsewhere on campus,” said Jon Swain, RHC for Dorchester Hall.

Not only did the RAs and RHCs check in students and hand out food but they were also responsible for keeping a nightly fire watch when the campus lost power and the residence halls lost battery backup to the smoke detector system. “The RAs and RHCs were responsible for conducting firewatch rounds every fifteen minutes from Saturday evening until Monday morning when the power returned to normal. This meant that the RAs got very little sleep for those two nights, as they were responsible for standing fire watch shifts 24 hours a day,” said Swain.

RAs and RHCs were not the only personnel getting very little sleep and maintaining nightly rounds. Maintenance staff and Housekeeping staff were also on duty for over 24 hours. They cleaned up spills, fixed leaks and help keep water damage at an absolute minimum. “Many of these people were working all night, and well into the next day. They deserve our utmost praise for their hard work during the weekend and all hours of the night,” said Swain.

After the storm passed through St. Mary’s the College had to deal with the aftermath of the storm, aftermath that was not as bad as some parts of the county but which still left a mess to be cleaned before the first day of classes. The traditional residence halls were without power for a day after North Campus and Queen Anne came back online. This left the RAs and RHCs in these halls to deal with hundreds of concerned students, many of whom were first-year students. This lead to many North Campus RAs and RHCs  coming to the aid of their co-workers and friends. “The Office of Residence Life takes pride in the “safety net” of friends it produces in its Residence Assistants and Residence Hall Coordinators. Even RAs who may not know each other still reached out a helping hand,” said Swain.

The damage done to the school’s structure was slight and a majority of the problems were dealt with quickly. “We are very pleased it was less severe than it might have been,” said Associate Vice President of Planning Facilities, Chip Jackson. “Physical plant, grounds, students, and faculty responded in a tremendous way. We had staff stay the night through the hurricane to make sure facilities were taken care of.”

“We have had rooms [flooded and] fallen trees and lamp poles. There is still data being collected on all the issues caused by the storm. I am confident damage to student  housing and academic spaces are being dealt with,” said Jackson.

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