Yesterday morning, the sun shone down on the Barone Campus Center. Fairfield University flags reclaimed their places on light poles campus-wide. The gardening staff returned to meticulously caring for the evergreen lawns on campus.
This scene was in stark contrast against Monday evening at Fairfield University, when nearly all campus buildings had gone dark and was at the mercy of Hurricane Sandy’s 80 mph winds.
News about Hurricane Sandy, dubbed by some as “Frankenstorm” or “The Superstorm,” first emerged more than a week ago. The Weather Channel was quick to notify people about its severity and even tweeted that this hurricane “will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.”
Fairfield University cancelled Monday and Tuesday classes in preparation for Sandy. According to one of many StagAlerts that the University had sent out, “all students who can go home are strongly encouraged to do so.” For those who chose to remain, the school instructed them to stay inside at all times.
According to a campus-distributed survey, around 1000 students waited out the storm on campus.
During the storm
At approximately 5:30 p.m., the Townhouses lost power. Around 500 residents in the Townhouse complex had to be evacuated via shuttle buses to the BCC, but some students went to stay with friends in the other residence.
Because of its spaciousness, the connecting dining service and couches and furniture, the BCC became the main evacuation center during Hurricane Sandy, according to Nathan Lubich, assistant director of Residence Life, who spoke for the office. If the BCC was ever compromised, Lubich imagined that they would move students to Alumni Hall.
Some students complained about the evacuation, but Lubich said he understood the circumstances. “It’s really hard for people to be told to just sit and wait.”
But, ultimately, the Resident Assistants performed “really well,” Lubich said. The RAs, who were asked to remain on campus as “critical employees,” had their radios ready and went on rounds in their halls during the power outage. Public Safety officers also assisted in the patrol.
The Quad, the Village, Dolan and Bellarmine all lost power by 7:30 p.m. on Monday, but since the emergency lights stayed on, students were allowed to stay in their residences.
From then on was a waiting game for most. Students received Facebook and Twitter updates from the University, Fairfield Police Department, The Mirror, Fairfield University Student Association and Inter-Residential Housing Association.
Twitter also indicated smaller incidents, which happened during the outage. A fallen wire of 13,000 Hertz had caused a small fire on North Benson Road. In Mahan, some students were stuck in an elevator but were eventually freed later on in the night.
Then at about 11 p.m., almost simultaneously, power was restored to all buildings, save for the Townhouses.
Technically, Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to post-tropical cyclone status around 7 p.m. Despite this change, weather broadcasters had urged people to still take Sandy seriously.
The damages to the University campus consisted of fallen trees and some smashed cars, but these damages seemed to pale in comparison to those in the town of Fairfield.
Dealing with the Aftermath
Next Tuesday morning Fairfield was in a state of emergency with over 97 percent of residents without power. Streets and homes suffered severe flooding. Some roads were blocked by broken branches.
Because of road blockages and the power outage, for example, FPD had used the University Department of Public Safety radio frequencies to collaborate on responding to nearby damage, including the short-lived fire on North Benson Road.
Nationally, the statistics showed even more dire consequences. On Tuesday, approximately 8 million people were without power.
As of Thursday evening, CNN indicated the death toll in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean was at 157. The cost of economic damage is at an estimated $20 billion, with some news reporting that it could possibly amount to $50 or $60 billion.
However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Fairfield University moves forward with the resilience to overcome future difficulties.
The next day, Barone Campus Center Dining Hall provided full service to displaced Townhouse and Beach area residents and other students, an act that proved to Lubich the attempt to return to normality.
“Every crisis brings with it its own unique circumstances, and Hurricane Sandy was no exception. With that said, our approach is to keep students and community members safe, through best practices and through clear and timely communications,” Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas Pellegrino said.
Dolan resident Amanda LaMattina ‘14 approved of the safety measures the University had undertaken during the crisis. “I personally felt safer there than going home. My parents actually encouraged me to stay here. I can honestly say that after the hurricane I was a lot better off staying here than going home,” she said.
Similarly, Sarah McHugh ‘15 said she felt safe because “when the power went out and this storm was going on I was surrounded by my friends.”
Junior Nicole Juliano, a Townhouse resident who stayed in McInnes Hall while the evacuation had been underway, said of her current situation: “The townhouses not having power is frustrating but I can’t really complain because there are students who lost their homes completely. I’ve been staying with friends in Mahan and McInnes and we’re allowed back to our houses during the day.”
Juliano and Lubich said that the University had done a good job with keeping student up-to-date during and after the storm. Parents on Facebook found the University updates to be helpful.
On the Fairfield University Facebook page, Lisa Fescoe Petramale, who has a son enrolled, wrote: “They’re doing a fantastic job so far for the safety of all.” Another parent, Suzanne Taves, resided in California and said she “ really appreciated the updates.”
Townhouse resident Rob Garrone ‘14 also believed the University did its best in response to the hurricane, but still had criticism for some of the school’s procedures.
“I think the university is being a little heavy-handed in its response to the storm in this instance,” said Garrone. “I could easily be sleeping in my bed in my townhouse in the dark at night instead of being in someone else’s room, inconveniencing my friends and other guests like the beach residents who really do need a place to stay. I’m not afraid of the dark.”
Pellegrino also pointed other areas of improvement during natural disaster responses: “In terms of what could have been done better, I think there would be opportunity for us to streamline our communications and see to it that we were meeting reasonable expectations in terms of clarity and timeliness. That’s always something that can be worked on.”
Fairfield University is eager to move on. “‘Tireless efforts’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but in this instance, these people have very much worked around the clock this past week adjusting to the needs of an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he said.
Pellegrino said: “Suffice to say, though, that these are going to be continually challenging times. We will be there for the students, and I think the level of support received from all sectors of the University has already reaped rewards.”
“As a Jesuit institution, Fairfield does this better than most,” he said.