In Sandy’s wake, students rise to the occasion.

It isn’t often that we have a strong storm roll through the northeast. It also isn’t often that you hear the word “Frankenstorm.” Well, weather services from all over were calling for a historically bad storm to hit the northeast. But that’s what meteorologists do all the time right? They scare everyone into thinking we have a huge storm coming, people run out and buy as much food as they can, only to return home and be greeted with a sprinkle of rain. Well this… this was different.

Hurricane / Superstorm Sandy has New Jersey in her sights

As the storm began to hit, trees were toppling over and hitting power lines, the sky lit green from transformers giving in around the area, and thousands of people began to lose power. We now knew that this wasn’t a joke. Meteorologists were actually right about this storm, and this was only the beginning. By the time Sandy was done battering the northeast late Monday night, she left 2.2 million people in New Jersey without power. Now since I am a commuter and live at home, I was concerned about classes and how the storm had affected Rutgers. In fact, since I live 15 minutes driving distance from the campus, I really had no idea what was happening on campus since I was so far away. Surprisingly enough, I was more prepared for this storm than I could have ever imagined…

GroupMe is a group chat messaging system that has revolutionized how groups communicate

Since I am the President of the Off-Campus Students’ Association (OCSA), I was invited to be on the Vice President’s Leadership Cabinet (VPLC). VPLC is a group of students that hold head leadership positions in various organizations across the University. Over the summer, we created the GroupMe to stay in touch with each other throughout the year. Except now, with the Hurricane hitting New Jersey, our GroupMe became an information center.

Sample conversation in the wake of the storm. Names and pictures blocked out for privacy.

Even though I live at home, I was now more informed than most students at the time. However, since we had constant information coming in from all different people and campuses, it was now our job as student leaders to get the word out to as many students as possible about conditions. Since the Rutgers emailing system wasn’t in working order, we had to get as much information we could through phone calls and in-person conversations with staff that were on campus. Numerous students in VPLC asked their RA’s, RUPD, and other staff members for information that we could communicate to the general student body. As a group of over 20 students using GroupMe, we were now in constant contact with each other.

GroupMe allowed us to take charge and offer help to the university and our fellow students in the best way we could. However, our main source of communicating with students is through Facebook, Twitter and email. Except, without power, how would students check these various sites without power? Well, that was something that we had an issue assessing since we don’t have access to the emergency text messaging system that the University has implemented (which may have been more effective). We had to hope that students would see our messages online either on a smartphone, or a student that hears the information tells their friends about the information we communicated. But in the grand scheme of things, with our group putting helpful information online, it was still a way of getting the information out. Even if only one student saw the information, I would consider that successful in times like this.

By Wednesday, we had many, many people that were on campus using Werblin and the Livingston Recreation Center as shelters since their homes weren’t safe to stay at or return to. Volunteers were needed to help the people in these shelters. I didn’t get a chance to volunteer at the shelters, but when I did get the chance to, I was actually told that they had too many volunteers there! I was taken back by this news, but I was more proud of our Rutgers community and how quickly they came together to help complete strangers. Later that day, I saw this video on YouTube of Governor Christie saying that “This state [New Jersey] is a family.” Except, I already knew this because of what I saw first-hand and how quickly Rutgers students stepped up to the occasion and helped as much as they could.

Outside of volunteering at shelters, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) sponsored a dinner on Sunday from 3-7 PM for off-campus students that were affected by the storm. I volunteered all day on Sunday and had the chance to not only help feed over 600 people, but I had the awesome opportunity to speak to students about what worked and what didn’t work on the University’s part throughout the span of the Hurricane.

Students getting food at RUSA’s free dinner last Sunday night. (Photo credit: Larry McAllister)

Sure, getting involved at Rutgers looks fantastic on your resume. But, in times like these, being involved put me in a position that I can exercise being a student leader. Students look up to the University to provide information when something like this happens, but when the University is unable to provide the information to students in an effective matter, it’s time for us to step up.

There’s a lot that we can take away from this Hurricane. Surely, it is responsible for devastating many areas all over the northeast, but we can see “#RFamily” (a hashtag used widely on Twitter, mostly by Athletics) in full action and it proves to be far more than just a hashtag on Twitter. People from all over can see that we really are a family here at Rutgers and we look out for our own and others in times of need.

Gotham may have Batman to lend a hand, but here at Rutgers, we have students that rise to the occasion.

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