As Hurricane Irene bears down on Connecticut, Yale administrators are preparing for the worst.
Governor Dannel Malloy announced a state of emergency for Connecticut Thursday evening, legally allowing him to issue evacuation orders and suspend laws as needed. Meanwhile, Yale and New Haven are making preparations for the impending hurricane, which is projected to reach Connecticut near Stamford on Saturday night and batter New Haven for about 24 hours beginning Sunday morning.
Yale’s emergency operations team is taking necessary precautions to keep campus running smoothly during the storm, but is keeping calm amidst increasingly ominous weather reports.
“We’re still three days out, and a lot could change,” said Deputy Secretary for the University Martha Highsmith. “We’re hoping for no serious disruptions, but planning for everything.”
Yale is no stranger to natural disasters. When heavy snowfall crippled New Haven last winter, the University concentrated its efforts on maintaining three “essential areas” of service: security and policing, dining and medical care at Yale Health.
Highsmith said she will work to ensure that all three of these services are available throughout this weekend’s storm. Managers of security, dining and medical departments have already begun scheduling extra shifts for employees to minimize service disruptions, Highsmith said.
New Haven’s shops and restaurants may not be able to do the same: Hurricane Irene is expected to drop three inches of rain in two days and is forecast as a Category 1 storm in Connecticut, with gusts that may range from 74 to 95 miles per hour.
Irene has the potential to be Connecticut’s worst storm in decades. 1985’s Hurricane Gloria was the last major storm to hit the state. Heavy rains flooded city streets, and Gloria’s winds reached speeds as high as 83 miles per hour in Waterbury.
While winds whip the Elm City, Yale’s athletes and freshmen will have access to dining hall food over the weekend. Other students, however, will not be able to purchase food on campus until Monday morning, when Commons dining hall opens.
“We are going to suggest that students have some food in their rooms that can be prepared easily in the event that the storm is particularly intense during meal time,” Highsmith said.
In an email to upperclassmen, Highsmith also suggested that students stay indoors whenever possible. She wrote that administrators anticipate disruptions in the campus shuttle service, and “it will likely be difficult to travel around campus safely.”
Yale personnel have spent several days checking storm drains and low-lying facilities such as Woodbridge Hall, which houses the offices of both Highsmith and University President Richard Levin. The basement of that building often floods, Highsmith said.
Traveling through New Haven during the storm may also present problems. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. issued a public statement Thursday announcing that the city may block off streets which have previously experienced severe flooding. DeStefano also asked city residents to make an evacuation plan and gather supplies.
The last major storm for which Yale made special preparations was Hurricane Earl, which skirted campus in September 2010. By the time Hurricane Earl reached New Haven, it was downgraded to a tropical storm and dropped few inches of rain on the city.
1938 saw the worst hurricane in the state’s history; between 650 and 800 people were reportedly killed.