On Feb. 4, 14 buildings on the University of Connecticut Storrs campus lost power. The power outage occurred because of a blown electrical circuit that left many without electricity, including residents of McMahon, Connecticut Commons and Nathan Hale residence halls.
The university found itself left without a plan for a complete dormitory shutdown. Connecticut Commons had to be evacuated, with the university suggesting that “the building [would] be closed between one and five days.” Though it is understandable that the university could not foresee such a rare and unexpected incident, the lack of planning for the shutdown of an entire dorm is appalling.
There are numerous situations in which a dormitory would require evacuation for an extended period of time, including a fire or flooding. The decision to suggest that students either stake out a position in the Student Union or find a friend to stay with is outrageous. To expect each of the several hundred students housed in Connecticut Commons to find alternate housing without warning or a temporary solution shows a lack of responsibility on behalf of the administration and school officials.
University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz suggested that this problem, stemming from the university’s electrical grid, is related to UConn being “an older campus with old infrastructure.” If this is truly the case, and the university understands that the infrastructure is prone to such maladies, then the lack of a viable plan is all the more problematic.
The lackadaisical tone with which the posted announcements told students to seek housing elsewhere for the vague period of either a single night or an entire week speaks to how greatly this grid failure blindsided the university.
Moving forward, UConn must learn from this failure. While it is important to plan for more catastrophic events, a dormitory evacuation for a non life-threatening reason is far more likely and deserving of attention. The university should focus their efforts on fixing the problem while also giving equal attention to the students and their housing situation. If the evacuation was entirely necessary, then alternative plans should have been provided.
However, if the university was simply avoiding the liability of a student potentially tripping in an unlit dormitory, then simple steps could have been taken to allow students to remain in their residences. Emergency lights and flashlights could have easily ameliorated the situation and provided enough safety for students to remain.
College students are perfectly capable of spending the night in a dormitory without power. The university must plan for another full dormitory evacuation and understand that simply suggesting students seek out a friend’s place to stay is unreasonable and irresponsible.