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Surviving Sandy

Debris, including part of a roof, scattered in the marsh on Newell Ave. in Beach Haven West, N.J.

photo The Fun Town Pier, Seaside Heights, N.J.

The thing that Kevin Gaffney remembers most was the way the students were dressed.

As chilly rain drenched the campus and 60-mile-per-hour gusts blasted down 13th Street, Gaffney spotted students fighting their way through the weather wearing shorts and flip-flops.

"The students were absolutely hysterical. Nothing fazes them," laughs Gaffney, Albright's director of facilities. "Nobody enjoys inclement weather more than college students. That's what struck me the most."

Inclement weather might be the understatement of the semester, if not the year. The climate through which Albright students so blithely strode was Sandy, a system so fearsome and devastating that it soon lost its "Hurricane" moniker in favor of "Superstorm."

Thanks to an awful lot of planning and a little bit of luck, the College survived Sandy in good shape. In the process, Albright's emergency planners reconfirmed that collaboration, communication and foresight are effective tools when danger strikes.

Friday, Oct. 26, was a pretty pleasant day in Reading. Temperatures were in the 60s, an easy breeze blew, and the gray sky hadn't yet turned ominously dark.

house A house in Mantoloking, N.J., lifted off of it's foundation.

But with forecasters grimly warning of a potentially devastating storm on the way, Gina Crance wasn't taking chances. Crance, the College's vice president for student affairs and dean of students, convened a meeting in her office that afternoon to discuss preparations. Representatives from Residential Life, Facilities, Information Technology Services, Public Safety and College Relations gathered around her conference table. A bowl of M&Ms provided sustenance.

The topics they discussed ran the emergency-preparedness gamut: generators, bottled water, flashlights, food service, flooding potential, communications plans and more. When the meeting adjourned, group members hustled to their respective corners of campus to begin implementing plans. The storm was less than three days away.

Hoping to stave off flooding, Facilities cleared gutters, sewers and drains, tested generators, and purchased extra batteries, duct tape, plywood and other supplies. Public Safety started consulting with city, county and state emergency management agencies and secured an off-campus emergency shelter site. IT Services moved computer equipment away from areas likely to take on water. Dining Services lined up personnel and revised menus to ensure that students could eat even if power were lost.

"We had a well thought-out plan and the people in place," Crance says. "We knew what our responsibilities were, and we took them seriously."

By the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 28, with the forecast remaining menacing and the storm moving largely as models had predicted, Albright's senior leadership canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday. The College, however, did not close. Residence halls remained open, as did select facilities—such as the library and the Schumo Center—to give students things to do while they weren't in class.

houseAn oceanfront home on 5th Street in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, N.J.

The decision not to evacuate the campus proved to be the right one, notes Tom McDaniel, director of public safety, who points out that Albright recruits strongly from New Jersey, Long Island and Maryland.

"Many of our students come from coastal communities," he says. "These are places that were whacked. We were able to secure Albright as a haven." As the rain and wind reached Reading, McDaniel and his team made sure to stay out and about on campus, reinforcing to students that, despite the weather, they would be safe.

"We tried to have almost an omnipresence," he says. "We were very visible in the residence halls and worked to be a reassuring, stabilizing influence. They knew they could still eat. Even in the face of crisis, there was normalcy. Little things people were doing above and beyond were positive."

Like Gaffney, McDaniel's officers saw their share of students struggling to make their way across campus. They picked up as many as they could in Public Safety vehicles and shuttled them to their destinations. Public Safety also ran shuttles to nearby retail outlets for those who needed to stock up, or simply wanted to get out for a while.

As Sandy, weakened after making landfall at the Jersey Shore, passed through and plowed west, Albright officials began to realize how fortunate the College had been. Gaffney points out that his team had been preparing for a catastrophic storm. But 8 to 10 hours out, computer models changed, and the forecasted saturating rains were lighter than predicted. Reading absorbed an ample 4 inches of precipitation, but over a far longer time period than early forecasts had indicated.

"I thought for sure we'd lose power and be out for a long time," Gaffney says. "How it didn't was a miracle."

debrisPiles of debris and items ripped out of flooded homes litter the streets of towns up and down the coast.

Indeed, while McDaniel reports that there may have been "a flicker or two" of lights on campus, electricity remained on. Students were cheerful and well behaved, he says, and no injuries were reported. Damage was minimal—nothing more, really, than a bevy of downed branches.

"We were lucky," says Crance. "But we had a good plan in place."

With campus secure and students safe, the Albright community returned in force on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and classes resumed. Crance reached out to students and invited those living in the areas hardest hit by Sandy to contact her if they needed any special arrangements to be made. But by and large, because the College was in such good shape, students and employees were able to turn their attention to helping others. The Volunteer Center coordinated a campus-wide donation of supplies, Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity members passed buckets at the home football game against Misericordia on Nov. 3 to raise money for the Red Cross, and Lion Records held a benefit concert on campus.

According to Crance, Albright's preparations for and response to Sandy were a reassurance that the College will be ready should a more serious emergency ever arise.

"Our first priority was student safety, and we achieved that," she says. "Our second priority would be to have emergency and facilities personnel available in the case of something serious happening. That was available. We were able to maintain operations and come back to classes more quickly than some area schools."

Humanity First in the Aftermath of Sandy

by Salaam Bhatti, Esq. '08

street with debrisPiles of debris and items ripped out of flooded homes litter the streets of towns up and down the coast.

In the middle of November, I drove slowly down a worn and battered road in Long Beach, N.Y., to help the Sandy relief effort.

The frequent red lights at intersections ensured that anyone driving through stopped long enough to survey the damage and witness the tragedy firsthand.

Sandy had ripped through the area a full three weeks earlier. Yet heaps of garbage, furniture and unusable machinery continued to pile up on sidewalks throughout every neighborhood.

I didn't see any aid trucks rambling through. There were no reporters on the scene. And, as expected, I saw no Long Island Power Authority crews. It seemed like everyone had already forgotten about the victims. But as I headed to the Long Beach Skating Arena I smiled. In front of a headquarters for Humanity First—a disaster relief charity—a long line of people waited to register as volunteers. A long line, and it was only 9 a.m.

Humanity First volunteers came from across the United States and Canada to Long Beach and the surrounding areas to help in the relief effort. Many of these volunteers and organizers, including myself, are Ahmadi Muslims. We take an active step in helping our communities however we can.

Today's mission was simple—survey damage, provide necessities, keep moving.

We conducted a thorough neighborhood census. Each household was asked what it needed. The answers were noted, and another team came by and performed the necessary work. I was on one of those teams. This was my first time gutting houses, and I had a vague idea how the process worked. I envisioned walking into homes and ripping off drywall. Turned out this wasn't far from the truth.

The first home we gutted and cleaned belonged to Daniel and June—a lovely married couple. We helped them organize their belongings into items to toss or keep. Fishing poles, keep. Magazines, toss. Fancy china, keep. TV, toss. Then June came across her wedding dress. It was ruined beyond repair.

She cried for a moment, composed herself, and soldiered forward.

"Toss," she said.

That struck me hard. I thought about the charity's name—Humanity First. I put aside the gloves to better connect with her. Who was she? What did she like to do? It is difficult to walk in as a stranger, take people's possessions, and throw parts of their lives away. But it is that much more gratifying to hear about the people and their lives in person, as a friend—as a fellow human being.

Liz owned the second house we visited. We carried two water-logged sofas out of her basement. "Don't scratch the upholstery," I offered—to which Liz cracked a smile. Again, I thought about the "humanity" in Humanity First. I asked her what she planned to do moving forward. Hope shone in her eyes as she passionately related her plans and her fears. How would she work full-time and also keep her family warm with the fast-approaching New York winters? I didn't quite have an answer.

"You know," I offered instead, "Humanity First serves hot meals down the road. It won't stop winter, but it can take the edge off. Help yourself, okay?" She smiled; we worked and moved on.

I don't remember how many houses we visited, but I cherished visiting each one as an American, as a Muslim, as a human being. I realized why there were so many red lights in the city. It's because the city does not want people to just pass on through. The red lights make you stop, look around. They make you park your car and help out however you can. They make you take another second to recognize that despite all our differences, humanity comes first.

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