Drexel University officials canceled classes and closed most campus facilities Oct. 29 and 30 in response to what was being called a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm. Hurricane Sandy had most of the East Coast on edge Oct. 27-28 while it made its way toward the Philadelphia area.
The Department of Public Safety sent out five campus safety notices between Oct. 27 and Oct. 30 to keep the Drexel community updated on campus operations and offer suggestions about safety.
“The personal safety of our students, faculty and staff is our first and greatest consideration. … We have to create an environment that is safe, given that we expected high winds and possible flooding,” Domenic Ceccanecchio, senior associate vice president of Public Safety, said.
Devon Powers, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, thought that University officials made the right call.
“I think the University made a very timely and responsible decision to cancel classes as the storm was approaching. Luckily, it seems that most of the University City area was spared, but given how many students, faculty and staff live or have family in the surrounding suburbs, I appreciated the University putting the safety and well-being of the community first,” Powers wrote in an email.
In preparation for the storm, staff members were responsible for securing outside items so they would not be dangerous in the windy conditions. Philadelphia city workers were called out to clean drains around campus that are prone to flooding, and construction managers secured loose items and equipment at each construction site.
Additional Drexel Police officers were on duty to respond to emergency calls during the storm, and additional Public Safety personnel were stationed in each building, including residence halls. Facilities increased staff to respond quickly in the event of leaks and flooding. Additional student volunteers for Emergency Medical Services were asked to work overnight Oct. 29-30.
“Conditions are always difficult with high winds and driving in the rain. Our police and Public Safety are trained to operate in this situation,” Ceccanecchio said.
Drexel activated its Medical Emergency Response team and its Emergency Operations Center Oct. 29. The Department of Public Safety Communications Center is located at 3201 Arch St. and brings together key members of the University to decide how to respond if certain circumstances arise. During the storm, the EOC focused on keeping communications online between all University personnel and students. The EOC is staffed by managers of Public Safety, University Facilities, University Housing, Environmental Health and Safety, and University Communications, among other departments.
“I commend all the people that braved the weather and came in. It’s not easy to leave your family. There are people who came here and made that sacrifice and performed admirably,” Ceccanecchio said.
Four years ago, the University revamped its Emergency Preparedness Plan to comply with the National Incident Management System. Each department has its own individual plan to follow during a crisis.
Drexel saw minimal damage from the storm, which caused only a few minor leaks and a brief power outage at the Queen Lane campus. All facilities were completely functional when classes and normal business operations resumed Oct. 31.
The Handschumacher Dining Center, Northside Dining Terrace, Recreation Center, Hagerty Library and Bookmark Cafe remained open with modified hours to accommodate students who remained on campus throughout the storm.
The University Registrar did not adjust the schedule for winter-term registration time tickets, the first of which were scheduled to open the morning of Oct. 29. All students were instructed to keep their original time slots, as academic advisers were available to chat via email. In the event that students might be unable to register for classes due to power outages, they were instructed to contact their advisers.
Sandy was originally labeled as a category 1 hurricane, spanning almost 1,000 miles in diameter with tropical-storm winds. It was one of the largest storms to hit the Northeast since Tropical Storm Olga in 2001.
Throughout the day Oct. 29, Sandy kept moving faster toward the New Jersey coast with wind speeds reaching over 90 mph. Right before making landfall south of Atlantic City around 8 p.m. Oct. 29, Sandy’s classification was reduced to a post-tropical storm.
Over 3 million people lost power in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey due to downed power lines and flooded transformers. The Associated Press reported Oct. 31 that 55 deaths have been related to Hurricane Sandy in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but that number may still be rising.
Travel was disrupted throughout the region: Delaware put a temporary ban on driving, all Delaware River bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania were shut down, Amtrak trains are still not running north of Philadelphia, and over 19,000 flights were canceled in airports throughout the Northeast.
Most of Pennsylvania and New Jersey’s public transportation is up and running, but New York is still not fully operational. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is offering credit to weekly and monthly pass holders for the two days that service was disrupted.
New York City has instated a three-person-per-car minimum for cars entering Manhattan. Police checkpoints have been set up on the Robert F. Kennedy, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges.
New Jersey’s coastline was one of the most affected areas, as Sandy devastated popular shore towns and left residents and businesses with the question of whether or not to rebuild.
“I don’t believe in a state like ours, where the Jersey Shore is such a part of life, that you just pick up and walk away,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Oct. 31 during a press briefing.
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection plans to update building standards, which has been done in the past after major storms. Other solutions are being considered to protect the coast in the future, such as building more jetties and seawalls and relocating homes and businesses further inland.
Bellevue Hospital in New York City was completely evacuated by noon Nov. 1, as backup generators were not enough to serve patients’ needs after some of the generators became inoperable due to flooding. New York University’s Langone Medical Center was evacuated during the storm when backup generators failed to start. Coney Island Hospital also had to transfer patients to other facilities.
NBCUniversal announced Nov. 1 it would be running a telethon, “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together,” Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. to aid those on the East Coast who were affected by the storm. Performances will include Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Christina Aguilera, Sting and Bruce Springsteen, with appearances by Jimmy Fallon and Brian Williams.