Queens University of Charlotte received an unusual visitor last weekend: a roaring abomination of a hurricane. Her name was Florence.
Initially listed as a category four hurricane, Florence beagan slowly approaching the North Carolina coast early last week, and Queens moved into action to try and counter it. “There [had] been a lot of preparation in store to get campus as ready as possible,” said Troy Luttman, campus architect and associate vice president for campus planning and services.
Students on campus were abuzz, wanting to know what Hurricane Florence was going to do and how it might impact the surrounding Charlotte area. Hurricanes have historically been difficult to predict ahead of time, so officials on campus prepared for any consequence. “Everyone’s got a plan in place, everyone’s dialed in,” said Luttman.
Queens does have contingencies in place for many potential threats, including hurricanes. “Queens has an emergency operations team that meets every two months during the semester,” said Amber Perrell, Associate Dean of Students. She described the function of the team as thinking through worst case possible scenarios ahead of time and what they might look like. The team is led by Ray Thrower, Assistant Vice President; Public Safety and Campus Police.
“In particular with the hurricane, we started meeting last Monday, once a day- sometimes twice a day, to assess what recommendations we would give to administration in terms of the storm and preparations that needed to go into place,” said Perrell.
Workers were seen prepping the two construction sites on campus and Tillet with sandbags. The fence around the site for the upcoming dorm was reinforced for sturdiness and had its sunscreen tarps removed in case of strong winds. Workers were also seen securing loose objects and placing sandbags over loose items on site as a further precaution. Officer Wallace of campus police added, “If something were to happen and we had to evacuate…there is a step for everything and [Queens has] a great plan in place.”
Queens has three buildings with back-up generators, Trexler, Wireman Hall, and the Levine Center. Perrell said the generator in Wireman is capable of lasting four to five days, and can be refilled with gasoline after that.
On Wednesday, classes for Thursday and Friday were cancelled. Perrell sent out several emails Thursday detailing emergency plans and encouraging students to evacuate off campus, if possible. Those who remained would have been moved to Wireman and Levine had the power gone out. The backup generators would have kept the buildings running on what Perrell described as “brown power.”
“Most of the receptacles don’t work and there’s no HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning],” Perrell descorbed of the state of the buildings were they to be powered by backup generators. Only the essentials would be kept running. “It’s emergency lighting and emergency safety equipment ,” said Perrell
Students interviewed in Wireman expressed some skepticism at becoming the emergency dorm, questioning if there would be enough food or water.
“If enough students evacuate campus, there may be enough room,” said Tanneka Broady. Another student pondered using the basketball court in Levine for additional space. Space availability in the event of a power outage was one of the main reasons students were encouraged to evacuate beforehand. “That was largely the reason that classes were cancelled,” said Perrell, “We wanted to reduce the number of students on campus.”
During the heat of the storm, about 450 students remained on campus, down from the 950 students who are usually live there. Perrell mentioned that 450 students could easily be accommodated in the emergency buildings, but 950 would have been “tight.”
Some students expressed frustration regarding the timing of Queens’ cancellation of classes and evacuation request. “School was not cancelled early enough for students to evacuate,” said an anonymous source.
Despite the anticipation and preparation, Florence did not hit Charlotte with the same ferocity it exhibited when it struck the coast. It had been downgraded to a category 2 storm by the time it began its assault on Wilmington early Friday, and it had only weakened further upon reaching Charlotte. The city, and Queens by extent, suffered heavy rainfall and sporadic strong gusts of winds.
The damage to campus was minimal, most notably a fallen tree on the sidewalk leading to the Levine Center, next to Trexler (pictured above). “The fact that we didn’t lose power was a happy surprise in many ways,” said Perrell. She also mentioned a couple of ceiling leaks and some flooding in the Albright basement that had popped up as a result of the torrential downpour, but was otherwise satisfied with the outcome.
Some areas of Charlotte suffered from flooding, especially around areas with creeks or other waterways.
Florence was not as hard on Queens as some had feared, but that does not mean the campus is immune to potential disaster. Fortunately, Queens does have plans in place.
Reported on by Chyna Blackmon, Tommy Bobbitt, Juliette Corish, David Griffith and Andrew Puckett.