Careful Planning and a Little Luck Keep Campus Safe
By Christine Dunlap
The winds blew and the rain poured, but UMass Lowell stood safe and (mostly) dry.
Hurricane Irene blasted up the East Coast of the United States last week and crashed into New England over the weekend amid forecasts of record-breaking rains, floods and damaging winds.
For UMass Lowell—as for many other college campuses in the hurricane’s path—the timing was tricky. Freshmen were set to move into residence halls on Saturday and upperclassmen on Sunday. Events for new students and their parents were scheduled throughout the period.
On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called a state of emergency across the state for the whole weekend, triggering a whirlwind of closures, changed schedules and contingency plans.
On the Lowell campus, the storm set in motion its NIMS-based emergency management system, overseen by Rich Lemoine, director of environmental health and safety. NIMS (the National Incident Management System) was established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provides a systematic, proactive approach for organizations to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate the effects of incidents that could threaten life or property.
Those on the emergency team—who represent a broad cross-section of the campus—have had NIMS training so that everyone understands protocol and responsibility. The system takes the guesswork out of whom should be doing what at any given time during a crisis and allows for the team to assemble quickly.
The first decision was made on Friday, allowing the freshmen to move in on Saturday and to not interrupt any of the planned activities. The University was closed Sunday, however, and upperclassmen were told to move in on Monday.
An Emergency Operations Center opened at 6 a.m. on Sunday on the second floor of University Crossing. On hand were representatives from University Police, Operations & Services (Facilities), Residence Life, EMT and Public Affairs.
Fortunately, the brunt of the storm bypassed the Lowell area. There were no power outages on campus during the hurricane and no major damage. The calls into the Emergency Center were mostly to report leaking windows and roofs, to which Facilities staff responded. Residence Life staff ensured that the students on campus—mostly freshmen living away from home for the first time—were safe.
The Emergency Operations Center remained open until 5 p.m., by which time the storm was over.