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How to Handle a College Emergency

Learn What to Do Before, During, and After Problems Occur


If you're facing a college emergency -- like an approaching storm or other major disaster -- it can be jarring to be so far from home and completely unsure of what to do on your campus. Fortunately, however, there are some basic procedures you can follow to make sure everything turns out as well as possible.

First and foremost, listen to the administrators on your campus. Chances are the administrators on campus, like your Dean of Students and other high-ranking folks, already have plans in place to deal with things like a major weather event. If you're living in campus-owned housing (apartments, residence halls, etc.), the hall staff should have instructions about what will be happening over the next few days. Make sure to follow any and all directions given to you by the college -- and also know what the plan is so that you're not constantly feeling unsure about what will happen next.

Get in touch with the folks back home. Make sure to update your friends and family about what's going on, even if it's just a quick phone call or message. Letting them know that you're okay and that there's a safety plan in place will make you and your loved ones feel better. Additionally, set a plan to keep in touch at scheduled times so that, for example, your parents aren't constantly worried about how you're doing but instead can focus on the agreement that you'll be calling each night at 6:00 to update them.

Tell people where they can go for more information. Realistically, it just may not be wise for you to be on your phone all the time, updating people back home about what's going on. See if your campus has a special disaster-plan website or hotline that provides information to people wanting to know the latest. If it does, send the URL to people who are interested in knowing what's going on -- or even consider posting the link on a social networking account, like your Facebook page or Twitter feed. This way, if there are any unexpected changes in the situation, there's another source of information besides just you.

Charge your cell phone -- and keep it charged. It may not be at the top of your list, but having a fully-charged cell phone just might come in handier than you'd think. If the power goes out, if you suddenly have to evacuate, or if anything else happens where you'll need to use your phone for a long time, it's important to make sure the battery is charged. Additionally, while it might be tempting, if you know you're not going to be able to charge your phone for awhile, resist the temptation to play games or surf the Web on it. You'll quickly drain the battery and be unable to use it when it matters most.

Pack and stack. If there's even the slightest chance you'll have to evacuate (to another building on campus, to a nearby shelter), make sure you have a bag backed with your necessities. In addition to weather-appropriate clothes, also pack prescription medications, your cell phone charger, your wallet, and anything else you might need or that you'd consider irreplaceable. If you're likely to have to stay in one place for awhile (e.g., if the power is expected to go out), make a survival kit that you can keep in your room to help you through the next few days. Food, batteries, and candles are must-haves if you're facing several days in one place. (And keep in mind, too, that those microwave soups aren't going to be able to be microwaved! Power bars, granola, and other non-perishables are a smarter way to go.)

Use your time wisely. If classes are cancelled for the next day or two, think about how you'd like to use your time. Sleeping in? Catching up on the reading? Studying? Hanging out with friends by candlelight in the dining hall? For good or bad, a major disaster or unexpected emergency will undoubtedly be one of your more memorable college experiences. Do the best you can with what you have and consider the break in your routine as a chance to recharge, refocus, and reprioritize what matters most to you during your time in school.

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