Hurricane Sandy Blows Through St. Mary's


A little more than a year after Hurricane Irene disrupted orientation, downed power lines, and started a seemingly endless mold fiasco, Hurricane Sandy made landfall slightly north of St. Mary’s, causing billions of dollars of damage and dozens of lives along the east coast, but leaving a surprisingly small effect on the College campus.

As President Urgo said, Sandy did come through and the storm did shut down campus for two days. However, it proved to be not much more than a “48-hour distraction,” Urgo said. “It didn’t cause a lot of damage but it stopped us from doing anything else except keeping an eye on it.”

As for the damage to the campus, the impact was relatively low. One tree on the historic side of campus blew over, but Urgo said they believed it was old and ready to go soon anyway. The rainfall was significantly less than Irene’s, and there was no flooding, though places which were prone to leaks did experience a bit. Additionally, though the College did lose power, it was restored after only 20 minutes or so, which Urgo attributes in part to upgrades that Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) has made around campus.
 Sandy wasn’t insignificant though; the rain and wind were both enough to eventually institute a campus lockdown, meaning students had to remain inside their residences on Oct. 29 from 4 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next morning. According to Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Joanne Goldwater, the lock down policy, sent out in an email by Interim Dean of Students Bert Ifill, was instituted because Goldwater saw students outside in the hurricane in swimsuits near St. John’s Pond.

“That really worried me,” Goldwater said, “so I contacted Dr. Ifill and in consultation from [Officer] Brooks at Public Safety, we determined that in order to ensure student safety, it would be wise to institute the lockdown.”

Because Bon Appetit had shut down dining services and students were confined to their residences, Residence Life distributed meals to students on Sunday night and Monday morning. Goldwater said that the decision to bring the food to the residences was made the week prior to the hurricane, as part of the standard operating procedure for the College’s hurricane plan. Before Sandy hit, Bon Appetit had arranged to have extra non-perishable food delivered to the campus, and the student staff distributed the food during the storm itself, when it was determined safe.

Goldwater explained that Residence Life worked intensely before and during the storm to remain fully operational and ready. Office Associate Monica Armstrong spend much of Thursday and Friday preparing for the storm, “by stocking up on extra batteries, buying additional flashlights for staff, ensuring that our walkie-talkies were operational, preparing our “to-go” bag (which contains important documents that we would need in the event that the computer system was not working and/or Glendening Hall was damaged), and preparing rosters for all of the RHCs [Residence Hall Coordinators].”

Additionally, much of the campus staff was on-campus through the storm to “ensure the safety of students and student staff, provide assistance and support, answer questions, allay fears, provide timely information, check on leaks [and] damages, and assist with the management of the emergency situation.” Goldwater was on campus for 36 hours straight, from Monday at 5 a.m. to Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Goldwater also praised the student staff. “[They] were the front-line folks. They distributed food, determined who was here and who left campus, ensured the safety of the residents and the buildings, kept students occupied, helped us manage the lockdown,” among other things, she noted.

Both Goldwater and Urgo were pleased with the emergency response by professionals and students alike. “I thought the emergency response was on target entirely,” Urgo said of the emergency response team. “They showed how well-prepared they were [and the] communication strategy was effective; we always knew what was going on and what was happening next.”
Goldwater agreed. “I think this is the best response we’ve had to a hurricane in my 19 years here.  We all worked really well together, the students were cooperative and helpful, there was a great deal of support, essential staff were available.  It all came together beautifully…In my 19 years here, I have found that during any crisis, our sense of community is absolutely amazing. So many people worked really hard before, during, and after the storm. We are so fortunate to have a close-knit community.”