High wind and fire alerts caused last-minute power outages, leaving residents without hot water or electricity. The university was closed for five days last month, leaving many students with nowhere to go.
High winds have always affected CSUSB, but starting this fall, due to the fires last year, Southern California Edison (SCE) power company has been taking more precautions than usual.
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Campus had little warning and no control when SCE turned off-campus power, according to Jon Merchant, the interim director for The Department of Housing & Residential Education (DHRE).
“We’re kind of at the mercy of the power company in terms of when these things occur,” Merchant said.
When SCE cut the power, it left 1,200 student residents without refrigerators, water heaters, electric stoves, elevators, microwaves, internet, and lights, to name a few.
Cindy Chavez is a student who lives on campus and is majoring in biology. On Wednesday, Chavez thought the power would come back the next day but was left in the dark instead.
“I was scared and overwhelmed at the time, ’cause I hate the dark, you know? Also, because I didn’t know where to go, what to do,” said Chavez.
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Many students like Chavez were left without direction, unsure of what to do.
Resident Daniel Arevalo is in his second year at CSUSB and majoring in chemistry. He explained that it seemed like students were left to fend for themselves.
“It was just kind of frustrating ’cause I know, like, the powers out, they can’t really give information easily, but I feel like they maybe could’ve helped out,” Chavez expressed. “I don’t know, I just feel like in my opinion they didn’t handle the situation as well as they should have.”
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Students were not the only ones impacted by the power outages.
Professor Richard Addante, Ph.D., is part of a CSUSB program called Faculty in Residence. There is a total of 7 professors who live on campus for the purpose of connecting with students outside of the classroom.
In addition to the 7 Faculty in Resident professors, there are 53 resident assistants, 8 hall coordinators, and 4 full-time area coordinators.
The RA’s are student volunteers who are not paid but rather compensated for room and board, said DHRE director Jon Merchant.
When the power went out, most students were dependent upon their RA’s.
Dr. Addante stated that RA’s are not trained in-depth when it comes to emergency protocol.
According to Merchant, RA’s have “full training” at the beginning of the year which mainly focuses on health and wellness. Other than that, RA’s refer to the other live-in staff for any questions they might have.
“I don’t know if it’s always the fairest thing to do is to expect kids who are 19, 21 years old to be responsible for all our dormitories without emergency management training, without first aid training, without these types of things,” Dr. Addante expressed.
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Dr. Addante works as an on-call search and rescue pilot outside of the classroom. He explained that the solutions for some of the power issues were not well thought out.
“They did a valiant job, the kids . . . but if the solution that is proposed is like, ‘how do we get in and out of the dorms, of our rooms?’ ‘Well, call the RA on duty,’ that’s not what we consider a very good management solution because that’s dependent upon the RA’s phone having enough battery,” Addante said.
Dr. Addante explained that students who do not live on campus tend to forget all the struggles that accompany a power outage.
Dr. Addante, and many students traveled back and forth between their dorms on campus and either friends’ or family’s houses. At one point during the outages, the total number of students on campus was down to approximately 300 students.
However, not all students were able to leave campus.
“So, we all had to find a place to go, and then those people who didn’t have a place to go, were stuck,” Chavez remembered. “My roommate lived in LA, so she had to stay. It was just too hard for her to go all the way back.”
Daniel Arevalo was stuck on campus for several days with no mode of transportation.
“I’ve really been really stuck,” Arevalo explained. “It was basically like fending for ourselves. It was almost apocalyptic.” Arevalo explained that the campus should have provided more for students.
DHRE director Merchant said that the DHRE remained open, 8-5 during the weekdays.
“All of our essential staff, so our associate directors and some of our specialists, we’re all here during the power outages too to support the students and to help staff and to be present if there were any emergencies,” Merchant explained.
Though there were no blanket accommodations offered to all students, Merchant said some essential staff were always available to help students should they reach out.
One student living on campus, who will remain anonymous, and will be referred to as Jackie Jones for this story, said that things were disorganized.
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“It was difficult cause it honestly felt like no one knew what they were doing. It was a bunch of chickens without heads,” Jones expressed. “My phone wasn’t working so I couldn’t really get in contact with anyone, and I couldn’t check my email.”
Many students, such as Jones, expressed that they felt unsafe and afraid.
“The fire alarms are going off nonstop like you couldn’t control it. There are control panels in each of the lobbies that were just beeping consistently,” Jones recalled. “It literally felt like the world was ending.”
One of the biggest components of the outages was the lack of warning which led to the loss of cold groceries and left students feeling unprepared and stressed.
Jocelyn Garcia, a resident student studying biology, attested that the lack of warning was an inconvenience.
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“I was frustrated because it was out of nowhere and then our stuff went bad and we had to buy all new groceries,” explained Garcia. “It was unexpectedly, so if our laptop wasn’t charged then we couldn’t complete our homework.”
Resident Jenna Davis said that students had to throw most of their cold food away.
“If you looked at the trash cans that Friday when everyone was there, the trash cans were stuffed with food that had gone bad,” Davis explained.
The cost for housing, not including a meal plan, ranges from $2,202-$3,957 per quarter, depending on the room style and size.
Merchant says that students will not be reimbursed, but they can contact Southern California Edison should they wish to attempt to receive compensation.