Preparing for a Natural Disaster on Campus

If Hurricane Sandy or Katrina has taught us anything, it's that natural disasters have no regard to who and where they're hitting--including college campuses.

StormIf Hurricane Sandy or Katrina has taught us anything, it’s that natural disasters have no regard to who and where they’re hitting. Hurricanes, nor’easters, tornadoes, or earthquakes can affect even the most populated, and seemingly prepared, areas of the world. Sandy pummeled New York City and the New Jersey coastline, which have no shortage of people, homes, buildings, and of course, college campuses. Universities have their own plans for crisis preparation and recovery when a natural disaster impacts a campus, so you don’t have to worry about anything, right? Well, though the safety of the entire student body isn’t entirely up to you, your own safety and preparation is in your own hands. Review some of the tips I gave to stay safe during a campus crisis, and prepare yourself accordingly in case you and your college are in the path of a natural disaster with the steps below.


If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t want to be one of those people storming the nearest Wal-Mart to battle the crowds for a can of beans. With this in mind, make your pre-storm preparations before your favorite weatherman has even predicted anything. You know what’s coming with hurricane or snow season, so stock up your supplies when you’re shopping for your dorm essentials. Keep some food on hand that doesn’t need any electricity to prepare or keep, like dried fruit, crackers, canned goods, etc. Make sure you stock up with other items you might need, like batteries, flashlights, and bottled water. Though most apartment buildings and dorms have back-up generators for some lights and heat, keep an extra blanket in case you lose power in the cold winter months. If you live in an apartment off campus, renter’s insurance may be a good investment—this protects your valuables in case they’re damaged.


When the wind is howling outside, you’ll likely be forced to stay inside your dorm or apartment. While you still have power, charge your phone in case you need to make calls for an emergency (if you do have a phone line that’s active and ready for use, it can’t hurt to hook up an old fashioned standard phone, as those work even without electricity). Additionally, if you live off campus and have meat in your freezer, cook some of it ahead of time in case you lose power for a lengthy amount of time—this will give you something to eat over the next few days, and will also prevent food waste. Also, make sure all windows and doors are locked, and if you may be prone to flooding, remove valuable items from the ground and put them high on a shelf, bed, desk, etc. If you have a car on campus, make sure it isn’t near any trees, and again, in case of flooding, bring it to an area with higher elevation so it’ll stay out of water and you can access it after the storm.


Hopefully you’re safe and sound! If your apartment has damage, and you invested in renter’s insurance like I suggested, now is a good time to assess the damage and call your insurance company if necessary. Before you go out and search for your car, make sure it’s safe to be outside, and check news outlets to see if any major roads are closed or flooded. Here’s why you need your phone powered up: check your e-mail and text messages for any alerts regarding class cancellation. In addition, you’ll be able to check the outage map of your power company to see when power is restored. Also, visit your state website (e.g., for Massachusetts) for post-emergency instructions, information on closings, relevant phone numbers, and other important information. Be sure to check up on your neighbors too; if you live in the dorm, your resident assistant will be the best person to talk to if you have any questions or concerns.

Have you ever been in an emergency caused by a natural disaster? If so, what other tips do you have to prepare? Share in the comments below!

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About Catherine Seraphin

Catherine Seraphin

Catherine Seraphin is currently the Multimedia Project Manager at Harvard University and a former Assistant Editor/Online Specialist for CollegeXpress. Catherine graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Journalism, a minor in English, and course concentrations in Business. She was previously an in-depth arts reporter for Penn State’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Collegian, and interned as a features reporter at a paper based in Southern Massachusetts. Catherine previously had a full-year internship with a well-known higher education PR firm. Her favorite experiences during college include her two years as a resident assistant and her involvement in THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. There, she was on the PR committee that helped THON become the third most tweeted topic worldwide. When she isn’t working, you can find Catherine shopping, reading, or running.


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