GW evaluates hurricane damage

Hurricane Isabel, which left the Mount Vernon Campus without power for three days and turned its 350 residents into refugees, cost GW about $1 million, University officials said Wednesday.

Mount Vernon regained power Monday morning, ending an ordeal for students who were temporarily housed in local hotels and Foggy Bottom residence halls. The relocation came after officials determined Saturday morning that the outage, which happened after a tree fell on a campus power line Thursday night, would last through the weekend.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for student and academic support services, said the $1 million price tag was a “ballpark estimate” that included the cost of relocating students to hotels and paying Aramark and facilities employees overtime to work throughout the storm.

“It’s not without cost, but these things happen,” said Chernak, adding that the office of the executive vice president and treasurer would give a definitive account of the costs incurred in the next few days.

Walter Gray, director of Facilities Management, said the University experienced no major damage on either campus. Facilities crews worked around the clock to clear fallen trees and stop flooding in the basements of several townhouses during and after the storm.

Gray said his department also felled several trees that were not firmly rooted to the ground, and they would be replaced in a joint effort between the city and GW.

University officials said they are looking at ways to develop additional contingency plans for unforeseen crises.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Jan-Mitchell Sherrill said the University would forge relationships with local hotels to secure housing for students displaced by future emergencies.

On Saturday, GW officials scrambled to find beds in six hotels for the approximately 200 students that requested them. On Sunday night, with Mount Vernon still in the dark, the University made plans to house students in the 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md., after determining that hotels were booked through the business week.

Sherrill called the 4-H Center a “blessing” because, with the capacity to house 350 students, it would have allowed GW to put up all of its students in one place.

“That’s good to have in your back pocket,” said Chernak, noting that the GW would look to temporarily relocate students to the center in future emergencies.

Relying on hotels to house students is risky because an emergency could occur during a convention or Colonials Weekend, Chernak added.

“It sounds good in theory, but it depends on the scheduling of a day in Washington that you can’t plan,” he said.

Chernak said the University doesn’t have contingency plans for all emergencies, and added that GW would have a hard time finding temporary housing for the more than 1,000 residents of Thurston Hall if a power outage occurred there.

“You can have all the contingency plans in the world, but it will be contingent on what’s going on that day,” Chernak said.

“You deal with it depending on what the circumstances are at the time,” he added.

Sherrill praised the University’s handling of the relocation, noting that GW kept in constant contact with Mount Vernon residents and provided cots for students who wanted to stay with friends in residence halls.

“Moving 350 students is not easy…and also keeping track of them, knowing where they are at any time,” he said.

The University’s crisis planning group, which is made up of vice presidents, met every day for two weeks before the hurricane to draw up contingency plans for scenarios such as power outages in residence halls, Sherrill said.

Sherrill said Mount Vernon residents, all of whom are freshman, showed patience and understanding as they shuffled around a city to which they recently moved.

Some Mount Vernon residents said the blackout and relocation caused them to miss study time, but noted that professors gave them extensions on their work.

“Teachers were very understanding and set due dates back,” freshman Molly Allgood.

Donald Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs, talked about the blackout’s impact on students in a memo sent to all professors Tuesday.

– Andrew Siddons contributed to this report.

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