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ROC: Competing priorities complicate emergency response

Jesse Buck

Lifestyles editor

In the wake of the [ice storm] that left Willamette community members without power for many days, the Collegian reached out to the Reopening Committee (ROC) to clarify the emergency decision making process, asking why the administration did not offer students access to food and housing earlier in the crisis, and how the response decisions were made. Their statement comes as a response to the [criticism] levied at the administration and the ROC for their management of the outage. For transparency purposes, the Collegian notes that the writer of this piece is also the writer of the linked opinions article.

The response did not address concerns about the last minute nature of the emergency communication students received, with students unsure whether or not their classes would be cancelled until the evening before those classes for three days in a row. The ROC did not indicate any emergency preparedness measures or changes they would make in the event of another emergency.

In an email statement, the ROC noted that the original decision to carry on with classes was made while they were under the impression that power would be restored by Monday Feb. 15 or Tuesday Feb. 16.

When power was not restored by then, the ROC said: “staff reconvened to explore possible options. Student Affairs sent students a Google form to query the interest in being temporarily housed on-campus. Thirteen students responded and we were able to accommodate them. We were grateful that Bon Appetit agreed to allow these students to join at the end of dinner service to have a warm meal but they are not required to do so as they are a private contractor.” The aforementioned Google form was sent to students on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

The ROC’s response emphasized the complexity of decision making while balancing the “competing priorities” of the power outage and COVID-19 preventative measures. They said: “The university must take seriously the decision to close the campus or cancel classes. We have a responsibility to provide students the learning opportunities that brought them to Willamette and must meet the standards established by accreditors, as well as federal financial aid regulations—both of which require a certain standard of days and hours of class time. There is a limit to how much we can cancel class without later cancelling holiday breaks or study days to compensate.

“Emergency response teams make the best decisions they can with the resources and information they have at the time. As any situation evolves new information is gained, priorities shift and new solutions emerge.”

The Collegian will continue following this story and will inform the community of any updates.

Read the full text of the Reopening Committee’s response [here].

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