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Super Sandy

11 Nov Posted by in Observations, Region | 1 comment
Super Sandy

We’re still assessing lessons learned from Sandy, and the process remains interesting particularly as it impinges on “the next time”.

First, of course, we were very lucky, and my continued sympathies for colleagues in NY-NJ who face ongoing adjustments both on campus and at home.

Second, Mason is pretty well organized now, a large team of folks anticipating, assessing, and repairing. Our facilities people were active in dealing with the minor problems we did face, and everybody got through the inconveniences well. It’s clear that we do need to try to open more facilities for students if we have to cancel classes, but we can probably manage.

But third, the really interesting question for the future – remembering that history never repeats itself exactly – is the tension between clear notice in advance, and trying to operate normally whenever possible.

We got huge credits for announcing closings well in advance, and it’s true that we haven’t always managed this in the past. Those on our team who think particularly about community response and employee comfort were really pleased.

Of course, we could have opened Monday morning before things got bad, but all of us on the “call” team agreed that this would have confronted too many people with the dilemma of how to get home later on, and when we would actually call it quits.

We then decided, early Monday evening, to call Tuesday off. All the other big schools, plus the feds, had already called off (except NOVA, which decided only after we did). (I did have memories of my father asking, “Just because all your friends are doing it, do you have to, too?” Just saying.)  Metro was sending out uncertain signals, and certainly would not be operating Monday morning. There was some discussion of waiting for a definite decision until early Tuesday morning, when the prospects would be clearer, but almost (not quite) everyone agreed that we should plump for timeliness. So we called Tuesday off, too.

It turned out we would not have had to do this. We could have run classes at least in later afternoon and evening, on what is our most crowded day. This might have mitigated the need to cannibalize a reading day plus an exam day in December (at the height of the storm, it was hard to remember this aspect of inconvenience or even the fact that we would need to compensate in terms of academic time).

So what would have been better: calling things well in advance or waiting, at the cost of community uncertainty? Unquestionably there would have been some howls if we’d waited, and if we’d then gone ahead with a partial Tuesday schedule. But it turns out there were howls about the reading and exam day adjustments as well, though perhaps not quite as passionate.

An interesting, recurrent dilemma, in a school with lots of commuting students plus faculty and staff but also a large residential population (some of whom did admit they would have liked routine back earlier if possible). It will be interesting to see what we do next time.

On the side, one reminder. When we do opt for normal operation, everyone should remember we can’t possibly anticipate all individual situations. The greatest good for the greatest number may urge operating as normal, but individuals should use discretion depending on particular circumstance, and we all need to be flexible in response. Too often this common-sense complexity gets forgotten, in what is predictably a highly emotional situation.