Rutgers and Hurricane Irene

August 30, 2011

Dear Rutgers Faculty and Staff:

As the members of our university community recover from the effects of Hurricane Irene, I want to offer my good wishes to those of you who have had to deal with damage to your homes and properties or who have faced great challenges in getting to your workplace at Rutgers. Let me also thank the Rutgers employees who worked so hard in preparation for the hurricane and in dealing with its effects so that we could keep the university operational.

Fortunately, Irene has caused relatively little damage to our New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden campuses. The most serious damage is almost certainly to the Rutgers boathouse on the Raritan River, which we hope to assess today; yesterday it was under several feet of floodwater. There were a small number of flooded basements that have been pumped out and are drying, and about 40 downed trees, mostly on the Cook and Douglass campuses and none of which block walkways or have caused building damage. Thankfully, because of wise investments in recent years, we had no major roof leaks. There were a few isolated power outages that caused temporary relocations of students, but power to nearly all university buildings has been restored.

I also want to report with pride on our response to a special request to assist those dislocated by the impending hurricane last weekend.

Last Friday, we were asked by the governor's office and the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security if Rutgers’ New Brunswick Campus could shelter some of the residents evacuated from coastal communities. A team of Rutgers staff from across several departments—including public safety, Facilities, recreation, dining services, housing/residence life, and student centers—swung into action immediately and prepared three venues to receive evacuees: the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center on Busch Campus, the College Avenue Gym, and the Livingston Recreation Center. By 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, the centers were ready and began accepting evacuees, most of them from the Atlantic City area. We welcomed 499 evacuees at Werblin and nearly 280 at College Avenue. Livingston was prepared to accept another 400 but was not deployed.

I was deeply impressed by how smoothly and seamlessly members of the Rutgers staff, the New Jersey State Police, the Red Cross, and the Army National Guard worked together to register the evacuees and provide them with cots, blankets, and food. Our housing staff worked until 1:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to prepare the cots, and extra custodial staff came in to keep the restrooms clean for our guests. Rutgers buses transported the evacuees to and from our dining halls and student centers for their meals. Members of our health services and occupational health staff provided support for the nearly three dozen evacuees with special medical needs, including several who required oxygen, and even a newborn infant! The shelters also took in 51 people evacuated from within New Brunswick during the storm, and Rutgers provided hot meals and three days of food for about 150 local residents at the request of their communities. Throughout the weekend, Rutgers' communication staff kept the media, public, and campus community informed about the storm and the shelters.

On Saturday afternoon, Governor Chris Christie visited the Werblin shelter, along with Lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno, New Jersey Homeland Security and Preparedness director Charles McKenna, and chief of staff Richard Bagger. During his visit, Governor Christie praised Rutgers' efforts and expressed his appreciation for how quickly and effectively we were responding to an urgent need. I am proud that Rutgers could play this role, which was small compared to Hurricane Irene but was hugely important to the people who were in need.

I want to acknowledge, with admiration and enormous gratitude, the Rutgers employees on all campuses who responded to this crisis at great personal sacrifice. Many of them worked nearly around the clock, sleeping in their offices or on cots, and gave up being with their families during the storm, and who themselves would be going home to flooded homes and damaged properties. I salute all of them for their dedication and selflessness.

Richard L. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey