Swarthmore Community Comes Together During Storm

On Sunday afternoon, members of the Swarthmore College community received an email informing them that the college would be closed on the following Monday and Tuesday because of the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy. As the dorms erupted in joy at this surprising yet heavily wished for occurrence, upperclassmen everywhere expressed disbelief about the cancellation of classes. Atish Agarwala ’13 said, “I’ve never had a class cancelled because of weather in my time here.” This was the first time that Swarthmore’s Provost has cancelled classes since 9/11. The Office of the Provost cannot recall a time before that during which classes were cancelled for weather-related incidents.

As lethargy set in amongst the occupants of the dorms on college due to an unexpected four-day weekend, the various departments of the college’s administration were abuzz with activity. The college’s Maintenance and Dining teams seemed to be the busiest as they prepared for hurricane-inflicted damage and potential food and staff shortages.

Linda McDougall from Dining Services recounted the Dining Team’s activities in a detailed email about how they managed to keep Sharples functioning seamlessly through the storm.

After an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon, Janet Kassab, one of the two Sharples managers on duty, realized that Sharples would have to cater to everyone on Monday since there would be no Essie Mae’s or coffee shop open. McDougall recalled, “Janet went into emergency preparedness mode and had to be sure there would be enough staff to man the dining hall. At this point Patti Woods, a supervisor, jumped into making many phone calls for staff. Janet also realized that the worst of the storm was to hit our area 4:00 p.m. so we thought it in the safety of the students that we would pack out a bag meal for dinner in case the storm was at its peak and students could not safely walk to Sharples.”

Minor hiccups were met and countered such as the cancellation of SEPTA trains. Linda said of the crisis, “Late Monday night we were told SEPTA was closing down so we now had to adjust staffing to compensate for staff who agreed to work and could now not get here. At this time we relied on our snack bar and coffee bar staffs as well as high school kids to staff the dining hall. That all worked out very well.”

Students who went to Sharples on Monday to eat lunch and collect dinner would have seen many deans and President Chopp behind the tables, handing them food supplies. Kassab praised the community’s spirit, saying, “On Monday we had the help of President Chopp, Provost Tom Stevenon, Associate VP of Human Resources Pamela Prescod-Caesar, Dean of Admissions Jim Bock as well as Professor Paul Rablen, Tom Elverson (Dean’s office), Mike Hill and Joanna Gallagher (public safety) and Stu Hain all pitch in to help man our dinner pack out station. We also had Student Council and many coaches and staff call and offer to help. This is an amazing community we work in!”

Even as all the planning, advance ordering and improvising by the Dining Team paid off, another section of the administration was hard at work trying to keep things running smoothly. Ralph Thayer from Maintenance gave an account of the hurricane’s impact on the college in an email early this morning.

Speaking about the overall impact, he said, “We came through the storm with very little damage.  Aside from the electrical outage (a problem we shared with millions in the tri-state area), the hurricane passed as little more than a windy nor’easter.”

The Maintenance department’s work started on the Friday before the arrival of the hurricane. Preparations, as listed by Thayer, included stowing “the outdoor furniture and secured items prone to flying in the wind. We took down and stored the Calder mobile sculpture and cleared debris from gutters, storm inlets, roof drains and window wells. Last but not least, they topped up fuel supplies in the emergency generators.”

Monday morning saw only essential staff come in as the college was closed for everyone, and they handled cases of flooding in Parrish and college housing on Elm Avenue. Thayer added, “Roof, window and door leaks were reported in the Science Center, Hicks, Worth and Alice Paul.”

Thayer detailed the Monday evening power outage experienced on the main campus: “Power went off on the main campus at 8:06 p.m., was then partially restored but was off fully by 10:06 p.m. Standby generators for life safety systems were activated.”

It was Tuesday that experienced potential problems. “On Tuesday morning, the Field House Generator failed. The Dining Hall was transferred to the Heat Plant Generator for the duration of the outage. We continued to monitor the campus and arranged for a back-up generator to support the campus in the event that the power was not restored. Power was restored at 3:06 p.m., just as the truck mounted generator arrives on Campus.”

As students emerged unscathed and well-fed from the unexpected weekend, President Chopp’s email sent on Wednesday morning seemed a fitting conclusion to Hurricane Sandy and its impact at Swarthmore. President Chopp acknowledged in her email that other areas have not been as lucky as Swarthmore. She praised the community, saying, “While these are sobering times, I do want to take a moment to express how very proud I am of the way our community came together to brace for, and then endure the storm. I want to particularly acknowledge the dining, facilities, environmental services, residential life, and public safety staff who stayed on campus through much of the most critical 48 hours to keep our students safe, fed, and supported. I also want to acknowledge the fine efforts of our Crisis Management Team, who led and coordinated our crisis response.”

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