A September storm caused widespread power outages across the Merrimack Valley, including the Merrimack College campus. Are we prepared for more storms this winter?
By Kaitlyn Foley
NORTH ANDOVER — A campus wide power outage leads to an eventful early September Friday night as some students were required to vacate their dorm buildings.
On September 8, 2023, darkness settled over Merrimack College as powerful winds and torrential rain took out trees and power lines. However, it was not until the evening that chaos unfolded.
Students living in the Townhouses, St. Ann, and towers D/E/F of St. Thomas were notified via email at 7:47 pm that they must vacate their rooms by 9:00 pm. The evacuation was necessary due to the loss of emergency lights in the hallways. This gave students just over an hour and fifteen minutes to pack their belongings and find temporary housing for the night.
“I was not given enough time to pack my things,” said Molly Kueter, a senior living in St. Thomas. “I got the email while working the Block Party and had to ask my boss if I could leave early.”
“I also live more than 200 miles from campus, so my departure plan should have been enacted,” said Kueter. “This means I should have received support from the Dean of Students and I did not, making the situation quite stressful.”
Kueter, like many, lives far from campus and she was not alone in feeling stressed about finding a place to stay.
“I think my biggest frustration with the power outage was the lack of communication,” said Ava Pepin, a sophomore living in the Townhouses.
Students as a whole felt communication was lacking.
“The Office of Residence Life is reevaluating how they communicate with students as many were upset with the messaging they received,” said Casey Stevenson, Residence Life Committee Chair of the Student Government Association (SGA).
Stevenson explained, “There was not a ton of time to make the decision as they [the Office of Residence Life] had to get permission from the college to notify students of evacuation.” In other words, Residence Life staff wanted to get the word out sooner but had to wait for approval from those higher up.
The evacuation email sent to students living in out sooner but had to wait for approval from the Townhouses, St. Ann, and St. Thomas. those higher up.
Communication was not the only issue that night. The crosswalk lights on 114 were not working, so students who evacuated and opted to stay with friends at Royal Crest ran across the busy road, hoping for the best.
The Office of Residence Life looked into “putting a generator on Merrimack’s side of the crosswalk, but Royal Crest said no as it is their property,” said Stevenson. “Doing so would also require approval from the state as 114 is a state highway.”
Stevenson also mentioned the Office of Residence Life talked about making sure there is a police detail at the crosswalk in the event a situation like this occurs again.
While this power outage was an inconvenience for many, it was a learning experience for the Office of Residence Life. It highlighted their weaknesses and prompted them to “look over their emergency responses/protocols for the future,” said Stevenson.