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Where Were You...

11/12/2012

Power outages, dangerous hurricanes and emergency bulletins are certainly no laughing matter, as millions of people found out when Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast, sparing much of New England but devastating the coast of the mid-Atlantic region.

But the 30-hour power outage at Brooks and surrounding towns did provide an opportunity for a bit of levity among all the serious news.

School administrators told day students to stay home Monday and Tuesday, but were left with about 250 boarders to not only keep safe, but also entertain for the duration of the storm.

“It was difficult and unusual for us, because we had to confine kids to a closed space for 12 hours,” said Dean Ellerton, director of strategic projects, who was part of the storm response team of administrators that made the logistical decisions in response to Sandy from Sunday through Wednesdsay.

Had it been a snowstorm, for example, there might have been the opportunity to suit up and head outside for sledding or a snowball fight. But because Hurricane Sandy sustained such high winds — gusts over 50 mph were reported in North Andover — it was too dangerous to have students or faculty outside, because they might have been injured by falling tree limbs or other storm debris.

So even before the power went out Tuesday around mid-day students were told to stay in their dorms and not venture out except for meals at the Wilder Dining Hall. And once the power went out, it was a chance for everyone to get creative about what they could do.

In PBA, there was a game of flashlight tag, and Charlie Lotane ’16 says in his dorm, Peabody, about 20 kids played Manhunt. Max Traina ’14 said he played Monopoly — for seven hours. “It was way too much,” he said.

Nick Papantonis ’13 had gotten used to power outages from his exchange trip to Botswana, so he simply slept when the power went out. Before that, he read A Warrior’s Heart, the book written by Eric Greitens, who spoke at school recently.

Some students were home, of course, like Anna Slingerland ’16, who spent the outage playing backgammon with her dad, and Luke Nawrocki ’16, who said his family enjoyed their generator-powered TV, Xbox, refrigerator, lights, Internet and even electric piano.

Many of the dorm faculty were very creative in their ideas for ways to entertain the kids.

Math teacher Susan Cameron is an avid knitter and seamstress, so to combat any early cabin fever, she offered free knitting lessons in the library on Monday (prior to the outage). Lisa Saunders, director of information technology, reminded students that the library had plenty of board games and decks of cards to keep them occupied once power went out.

Kate Zipin, science teacher and Merriman dorm parent, taught some dorm girls how to play Jotto, a logic/word game. “We played in my faculty apartment because the windows were our light source on Tuesday morning.”

Carmen Vicente-Quesada, dorm affiliate in PBA, said how her dorm girls responded to the storm wasn’t a game, but it was fun. Carmen and the girls set up a solution for how to find the bathroom, thanks to a box of glowsticks from Student Activities Director Deanna Stuart. “We lined them against the wall across from the bathroom, and we pointed to the door with an arrow made of glowsticks. It last all night!” she said.

Ellerton said in the days since the storm, it’s clear that relatively brief power outage was not all that terrible, compared to the storm’s devastation elsewhere. Part of what made the emergency response run so smoothly was the fact that local parents were willing and eager to take in boarders once the power had been out for a 24-hour period on campus.

What happens in a weather crisis?
It’s rare that Brooks School has to deal with weather-related emergencies, but there have been significant power outages this fall and last fall — each right around the same time in October.

Head of School John Packard gathers a group of administrators that serves as a crisis response team who pool information in regular meetings during any emergency, and come to decisions about classes, schedules, student locations and transportation and communications with parents and employees. Updates are immediately posted on the school’s website, and e-mailed to parents.

Currently, the Wilder Dining Hall and the Luce Library/Business Office/IT Department building are the only facilities with generators. Dormitories have emergency backup for lights and fire alarms, but if an outage is projected to last longer than 24 hours, administrators begin looking at ways to get boarding students safely sent home with day students or local boarders until the power is restored, as a precautionary measure.