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Saxa Politica: Sandy brings out the best

November 8, 2012


Just after 6 p.m. on Oct. 28, Georgetown students rejoiced; University spokeswoman Stacy Kerr sent a broadcast email to the campus community cancelling Monday classes in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught.

In spite of grumblings concerning the University’s dragging of feet, the decision came just one hour after the federal government announced its closure. For an organization struggling to overcome strangled communication channels and miles of red tape, Georgetown handled Superstorm Sandy remarkably well.

“The decision is driven primarily by safety,” Kerr wrote. In spite of concerns regarding students’ wasted tuition, backed-up class schedules, and unearned salaries, the well-being of students was appropriately placed above all else, even though the end goal might have been more to avoid liability, not to protect students.

As always, the one problem which surfaced in the University’s deliberations was the lack of updates sent to students prior to the Sunday evening announcement. The students only received one email from Campus Housing regarding preparation for Sandy in on- and off-campus residences the Saturday before the storm, with no indication of Georgetown’s plans.

Such gaps in information prevent professors from being able to restructure their syllabi and students from beginning assignments designed to make up for the missed classes, a common practice with the advent of Blackboard’s unfriendly yet ubiquitous user interface.

Fortunately, the broadcast emails took off shortly after the closing announcement. Everything from the Lauinger opening times to the Grab ‘n’ Go availability at Leo’s to the safe spots for power on campus was sent to the students, ensuring the highest possible availability of information. Georgetown University President John DeGioia, Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson, and Department of Public Safety Chief Jay Gruber even visited Leo’s early Monday afternoon to converse with students and employees, an astonishing and welcome display of sympathy from the administration.

Just after 10:30 a.m. on Monday, a broadcast email sent out to students and staff confirmed Georgetown’s closed status for Tuesday, a move that, on the whole, was responsible—yet, as it turned out, unnecessary.

After all, D.C. metro bus and rail systems resumed operation on Tuesday afternoon, and the worst of the superstorm had passed by 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. The shelter-in-place order, however, which was issued on Monday evening, extended to 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, requiring continued closure of the University.

Still, Georgetown correctly anticipated the fallout from the storm; Facilities workers had inspected 91 percent and resolved 59 percent of the 308 maintenance requests through Thursday, numbers that likely would have been lower had Facilities been responsible for maintaining normal operations of the University on Tuesday.

Even on Monday, Facilities workers and administrators earned commendation for their actions. Though they are expected to report to work despite dangerous conditions, Facilities employees were awarded twice the usual salary, and many stayed overnight, according to Kerr.

DPS staff members received the same compensation, with many working 24-hour shifts, well above the allowed 16 hours, a rule lifted in emergency situations, said Kerr. Generally considered the enemies of the students, DPS officers and Facilities staff members appear genuinely passionate about students, if not their jobs. Ideally, such dedication should hold true even without a superstorm bearing down on D.C.

The only employees on University property who were not paid emergency compensation or overtime wages were Leo’s workers. Aramark did not explain the company’s decision to pay regular wages in spite of hazardous conditions, but did allow workers to stay home with no penalty. Still, half of the staff reported for duty, preparing twice the usual amount of food for the students, according to Kerr.

“I was motivated by helping the students,” Leo’s worker Martina Hamilton told The Hoya.

Employees did receive accommodations at the Leavey Center Hotel and Conference Center, as well as letters of thanks from students, an initiative proposed by then-ANC candidate Craig Cassey Jr. (COL ‘15).

The startling takeaway from the hurricane is, in the end, the immense cooperation among students, administrators, and University staff members over the course of and after Sandy. This collaboration is only surprising because it is clearly achievable, but not at all present under normal operating conditions.

If all members of the Georgetown community lived every day as though Sandy were ravaging their beloved university, the constant conflict and tug-of-war between departments and community groups would at last begin to come to an end.

Email Kirill at kmakarenko@georgetownvoice.com


Kirill Makarenko
Former Assistant Leisure Editor


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