A slightly stormy start to the school year

As students moved into their residence halls during the week of Aug. 20, some were ready to experience a school year as close to normalcy as the fall of 2019. Shortly after students settled into their dorms, they were met with an email of impending tragedy – Hurricane Henri was coming straight towards New Haven.

An email sent to the university community from Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Administrative Services Ronald Quagliani and Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Mario Gaboury said students were urged to leave campus by 5 p.m. on Aug. 21.

It was projected that the storm was going to be a category one hurricane. The university announced that power and network outages were expected. All events and classes from Aug. 21 through Aug. 23 were canceled, students who were remaining on campus were provided with food for the weekend and plans were devised to shelter students.

However, as its path shifted east, Hurricane Henri downgraded to Tropical Storm Henri. With cloudy skies, light rain and some wind, the effect of Henri was less than anticipated.

In an interview with The Charger Bulletin, Quagliani described some of the university’s procedures and decisions. Quagliani said there is an emergency response plan that covers weather emergencies, as well as a team that plans, manages and mitigates emergency conditions, such as hurricanes. They also cover communication, food distribution, sheltering plans and power loss procedures.

“Every storm is different so there is some specificity with each plan,” said Quagliani. “The template we utilize is constantly updated based on our after-action meetings we hold to ensure after the event is over that we address all the necessary requirements to manage the storm and keep people safe the best way possible.”

Quagliani said that the storm was originally projected to pass over New Haven, which would have been a direct hit for the first time in over 30 years.

“This would have been a devastating storm with substantial damage expected due to heavy rain, wind, and flooding. We are very fortunate the storm took a right turn a few hours before landfall,” Quagliani said.

Some students returned to their homes while others remained in on and off-campus housing.

Senior criminal justice major Kelsi Burns described her experience. She said she was nervous when she found out about the hurricane and decided to delay her move in until the storm passed. “It was weird not coming back. It kind of messed up all of my plans.”

Vanessa McCole, a junior marine biology major, moved in on Aug. 20 but decided to return to her Pennsylvania home the following day. After realizing the storm was not as bad as projected, she said, “I had to spend a lot of money on a train ticket and now my parents had to drive me back up for three hours, and I felt really bad for them.”

McCole said, “I believe [the university] thought they were doing the best they could do, but I definitely think there were other things they could’ve done.” She said that since she lives in Park View, she would have had to walk in the hurricane to the Beckerman Rec Center. She said that she wished they thought of other plans.

Junior cybersecurity major Matthew Swaggerty decided to stay on campus in hopes that the storm would be better than projected.

Swaggerty said that he was happy with how the university handled the situation. “I think preparing for the worst is always the best case to deal with any situation.”

“I think they’re doing a great job with the pandemic and everything else that’s going on,” said Swaggerty. “I’m just glad to be back on campus.”

Quagliani said, “Our team is well-trained and credentialed to handle any emergency. Many Emergency Response Team members hold degrees in Emergency Management and/or have or currently work in this field.”

According to Quagliani, students are automatically signed up for emergency notifications with their contact information listed in Banner. Students should check this information to make sure it is accurate, and update it if need be.