Emergency Efforts Keep St. John's Students Safe, Secure during Hurricane

Friday, November 9, 2012

When Hurricane Sandy hit the mid-Atlantic coast on Monday, October 29, it flooded communities, toppled trees and wrecked power lines throughout the New York metropolitan area.

At St. John’s University’s residential Queens, NY, campus, however, more than 3,200 students were safe, warm and well-fed thanks to extensive planning and hard work by administrators and staff in virtually all departments.

“When we turned on the television or went online, we learned about the terrible problems the hurricane caused for so many people,” said Khadijah Lyons ’16P, a freshman who resides in Hollis Hall. “But in the dorms, everyone was really comfortable. When our parents called, we told them things were totally fine.”

“Successfully ensuring the well-being of our students during and following the storm was a coordinated effort by the University’s entire Emergency Management Team,” said Thomas J. Lawrence, Vice President for Public Safety. “We began preparing the Thursday before the storm hit, and we covered every angle — food, power, activities, making sure the outdoor areas would remain safe.”

The Emergency Management Team at St. John’s includes representatives of every academic and administrative unit. During and after Hurricane Sandy, they held at least two conference calls a day. Administrators and staff from Public Safety, Facilities and Residence Life remained on campus throughout the crisis. Chartwells, the University’s food service, was on hand to provide meals at Montgoris Hall.

Ultimately, the campus sustained almost no damage. Two oak trees fell on the Great Lawn. Off campus, a fallen tree destroyed a power line that provided electricity to St. Vincent and St. Albert Halls, and some outages occurred elsewhere. Thanks to planning, the University was well-prepared.

“The safety of students and the St. John’s community is always our paramount objective — and it continued to be the main driver when Sandy was reported coming our way,” said Brij Anand, Vice President for Facilities Services.

Six portable generators were brought in to complement those already on campus. St. John’s electricians worked around the clock with 20 outside electricians to keep the equipment running. Grounds crews also were on hand to keep the lawns, walkways and paths free from damage and debris. “It was a herculean effort,” said Anand. “Our maintenance crew continues to monitor the generators so power is sustained until the utilities are fully restored.”

Power outages resulted in 116 students from Manhattan and 79 from Staten Island being relocated to Queens. Due to flood-related damage, the Manhattan students will remain at Queens for the remainder of the semester.

In the residence halls, students were engaged as well as comfortable. Staff provided a wide range of activities, including movies, a pool tournament and a Halloween costume party. “We were definitely proactive in making sure the students were never bored,” said Eric Finkelstein, Director of Residence Life. In addition, staff used sign-in sheets and other ways of keeping track of every student. “When parents called, we made sure they knew where their students were.”

 “There was always something to do, during the storm and after,” said Ryan Moskowitz ’16CPS, a freshman from New City, NY. “The cafeteria was open. We saw a movie at the Little Theater. And I got to work out at the Fitness Center. I think we were better off here than at home.”

“The students’ response to the challenges presented by Hurricane Sandy was really terrific,” said Kathryn Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs. “We also saw a great deal of collaboration among administrative departments, which has carried over into the University’s re-opening. These past two weeks have served as a tangible illustration of the true spirit of St. John’s.”