July 20, 2018

Area power outage causes ‘mass exodus’ of Webster University students on campus

Philip Irving evacuated his dorm in West Hall in a hurry last week. Irving is one of around 400 other on-campus residents who left for safety reasons when the power went out last Wednesday.

“It was kind of last minute,” Irving said. “It was a struggle because I had to call a bunch of different people and try to figure out where I was going to stay.”

Webster lost power at 9 in the morning with 9,000 Ameren customers around St. Louis. Student residents of East, West and Maria halls evacuated their dorm rooms after Webster learned Ameren will not fix the power outage until midnight.

Student Resident Assistants (RAs) informed residents about the evacuation around 3:30 p.m. Students had until 5 p.m. to evacuate. Dean of Students John Buck said the evacuation process went smoother than the first time the power was lost in 2006. West and East halls opened in 2006 and lost power within the first week of the school year. Students had to evacuate but were not familiar with one another yet. This time, Buck said students knew one another and it made finding a place easier.

‘What we saw was a fairly quick mass exodus between 3:30 and 5,” Buck said.

Miranda Green is the RA for Webster Village Apartments (WVA) building four. She said it was stressful to get in touch with all the residents in a timely manner. She said each RA has between 35-48 residents. There are 21 RAs on campus.

“The most challenging part was reaching out to all the residents,” Green said. “There was a lot of organization that had to happen for this situation to run smoothly and housing did just that.”

The (WVA), Glen Park Apartments and Big Bend Apartments did not lose power. Housing Interim Director Anna Dickherber said the plan was to move students who did not have family near-by to these apartment complexes and to Eden Seminary.

Housing and Residential Life is opening North Hall on the grounds of Eden Seminary this coming Fall. Dickherber said about 30 students stayed in Eden on Wednesday night.

“The hardest part is delivering a clear consistent message when you’re doing it with only two hours before you’re closing,” Dickherber said.

International students and their parents were a priority to keep in the loop. Dickherber said communication over social media was essential to inform people on where to go and what to do. She also coordinated with the office of advancement on messaging   parents to assure them of their children’s safety.

Housing met with the dean of students, public safety, facilities and Sodexo to make decisions for the day. Buck said decisions needed to be made in a certain order.

“We had to have these things, these macro details, lined up and ready to go,” Buck said. “We need to communicate the next steps. If we say campus is closed, someone is going to ask “what’s for lunch?’”

Buck said decisions had to be appropriately sequenced. First, they announced night classes were cancelled and then dining services would provide evening food on Marletto’s patio and then, housing would close the residential halls.

When there is no power, this means no temperature control and emergency lights can run for a limited time until they need to be charged again. Power went out first thing in the morning and emergency lights were out by the time Webster was closing the buildings. Dickherber said navigating in the dark would have been especially difficult for students with disability concerns.

In preparation for the day, Dickherber went out in the morning once the power went out and bought flashlights to give to RAs and students.

“We went and cleaned out Dollar General,” Dickherber said. “Safety is the number one and it’s paramount. If we needed to clear out Dollar General, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Public safety put “out of order” signs on elevators and accessibility door opening buttons as soon as power went out in the morning. Public safety assigned an officer for every residence hall in the evening to ensure security and safety.

RAs kept in touch with their residents and went through floors to check on them. Apartment RAs went door to door to those in the apartments and asked who can host a student or two. RAs helped move student’s mattresses and bags.

“The RAs really were the front line folks working through this,” Dickherber said. “They were awesome, spectacular, everything we needed at the moment.”

Dickherber said they will not reimburse students who went to hotels. She said housing still had keys to apartments and those students did not go in to talk to Dickherber and her team.

Dickherber said the priority was to get card access the next morning as soon as the power came on so students can go in. She said there is no sign of any equipment damage from the outage. She said most fridges were closed and she is not aware of any food spoilage.

Irving’s brother eventually answered Irving’s calls and offered a place for Irving and his roommate, Zach Bliss. Irving spent winter break with his brother and said his brother was okay with hosting him and his roommate.

“I got used to his horrible couch so one night wasn’t that bad there,” Irving said.

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