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Power outage shines spotlight on UB’s contingency plans – the good and the bad

For the most part, UB officials make the best of a bad situation


For the most part, UB officials make the best of a bad situation

A lone sprinkler and lot of cold weather managed to uproot more than 500 students from Red Jacket Hall last night, but UB officials largely responded admirably to the unexpected and urgent situation.

The dormitory lost power and heat Wednesday morning when a dripping sprinkler line damaged an electrical panel. Later that day, when it became clear that even with power restored there might not be time to sufficiently reheat the building, students were mandated to leave the building by 9 p.m. University officials were ready to relocate the dorm’s residents.

A broken sprinkler line caused a power outage in Red Jacket dormitory on Wednesday, displacing about 500 students. UB provided shelter and cots for students inside Alumni Arena.

It’s reassuring to know that the university had a crisis contingency plan prepared in advance and that officials are able to implement arrangements to relocate hundreds of students in a short time span.

Less reassuring is that a lone broken sprinkler, damaged by weather-related conditions common to Buffalo, was able to take down an entire building’s electricity and heat and force hundreds of students out of their rooms.

It was also frustrating that UB police tried to keep media out of the Triple Gym for what they considered privacy purposes. UB is a public university ands students should have been able to make their own choices if they wanted to speak with reporters.

Even though it seems that this should have been an avoidable crisis, UB officials did communicate with Red Jacket residents, notifying them about the situation quickly. Even though the power was out, residents were not left in the dark.

Some students, however, reported resident advisers did not make rounds to rooms, a logical move to ensure all residents were informed.

UB should have also sent out a campus-wide notification, so students intending to visit friends in Red Jacket or eat at Crossroads Culinary Center, which also closed, could have adjusted their plans for the evening.

Ellicott Food Court and Governors Dining Hall remained open for additional hours, but the reduced options posed a potential inconvenience – one that students should have heard about as soon as possible.

Only around 50 students used the accommodations that UB offered in Alumni Arena’s Triple Gym. UB was clearly prepared to handle an influx of hundreds of students, even though it was common knowledge many students wouldn’t be spending the night in Alumni.

For the students who did head to Alumni, the prospect of spending the night on cots in a gym may not have been appealing, but UB officials did their best to make the experience comfortable – and cost-efficient.

Attempting to make spaces available for all possible students in need at local hotels, for example, would have been excessively expensive. In 2014, when a fire displaced 19 students from Spaulding 1, the university did fund temporary hotel stays for the residents.

But for a one-night span, and for an entire dormitory, offering the Triple Gym was a logical choice.

The food was nothing impressive – bagels, granola bars and apples aren’t exactly gourmet and more could have been done to offer students a wider variety of food, especially considering the inconvenience students experienced.

Once UB realized that only about 50 students would be staying at Alumni, it wouldn’t have been difficult to provide higher-quality food.

However, officials were attentive to some of students’ additional needs and set up tables and chairs so students didn’t have to study on their cots.

Though clearly flawed, UB’s response was efficient and organized, and thanks to the university’s preparedness, displaced residents were safe, sheltered and inconvenienced for only a brief period of time.

It’s worth noting there was also a great effort made by maintenance staff to resolve the situation in Red Jacket, as the problem was resolved by 7 a.m.

The response by UB was effective but imperfect – future evacuations, should they occur, could be improved by campus-wide notifications and consideration of student feedback regarding this event.

But arguably, this debacle never should have happened. Maintenance emergencies aren’t always preventable, but issues of this scale shouldn’t stem from something as small as a sprinkler and single electrical panel.


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