Our SUV pulled out fully packed at 6a.m. this past Saturday, and by late afternoon we were returning home both physically and emotionally spent. Our daughter’s dorm move-in went great; still, it was quiet at home without her. I fell asleep that night with my iPhone under my pillow and the unfamiliar discomfort of knowing our daughter wouldn’t be safely sleeping under our roof.
The following night we gathered with other parents of new freshman at Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. As the Dean welcomed us, storm alerts began sounding from iPhones across the room. Quickly silenced, the Arizona natives in the audience were unbothered, as we are used to the Monsoon season in the valley.
Dust, high winds, and heavy rains arrive in Arizona during the hottest period of summer. Monsoon season can be as violent as hurricanes or tornadoes across the country, often knocking out power and causing significant damage.
Later driving home, we noticed fallen trees in the streets and traffic lights near the university were out. We were close to home when the text arrived from our freshman daughter “Dorm evacuated-fire alarm and no power.”
”Where are you going?“ I texted in response.
This was her second night in her dorm and my freshman was in her pj’s and slippers, unsure what to do next.
Our daughter ended up back home that night, and the dorms reopened before dawn. I watched this unfold on social media, other families from out-of-state messaging back and forth online, unsure of the true status of the campus situation.
Several families were at the airport, in flight, and on the road home worrying about their students. Some students were phoning their parents for advice on what to do immediately following the evacuation. A friend dropped our daughter off, and we were lucky to have her home.
We learned that emergencies could happen as early as day one on campus, or in our case, day two.
Here is what I learned from the experience, and how your family can be better prepared for dorm emergencies and evacuations:
1. Make sure your student meets the floor RA/ CA (Resident/Community Assistant) face to face on day 1 and establishes a way to contact them directly in case of an emergency.
2. In all cases of campus evacuation and emergency, your student should check in with their RA/CA first and ask for instructions. After the first dorm floor meeting, ask your student if any emergency preparedness plans or instructions were mentioned.
3. Students should enter the campus police emergency number and non-emergency number into their phones. Parents can record the non-emergency number for situations where they need to know the status on campus. In our case, I was able to call the non-emergency number and receive accurate information.
4. Follow social media accounts for your college and campus police at the college. In our case, campus police were later providing updates via Twitter.
5. Make sure your student has registered their correct cell number for campus updates and alerts via text and email. Make sure your student is checking email and text during emergency situations.
6. Most colleges will not practice emergency evacuation drills. Discuss some common sense evacuation scenarios with your student, and what they can do to evacuate quickly if needed:
- Does your student know the best route and multiple exits available in case of evacuation?
- To safely stay out of elevators?
- Where are the stairs located?
- Does the dorm room door automatically lock or will they have to stop and lock it in case of evacuation?
7. Talk about what to take during an evacuation. Shoes, flashlight, jacket and college ID should be kept in the same easy to access locations. Secure items should stay in a locked drawer or dorm safe when not in use, in case of emergency situations. Could your student benefit from a grab & go bag ready with extra prescription meds, cash or cell phone charger?
8. What is your expectation for contact in case of emergency situations? Remind your student that you will want to hear from them in case of an emergency on campus, and to keep you informed.
9. Encourage the buddy system. Great for everyday safety, the buddy system is especially helpful in emergencies. Make sure someone knows where your student is at all times, and encourage your student to check in with a buddy also in case of a campus dorm evacuation.
10. Before arriving on campus, be sure your student has updated your emergency contact information on their cell phone. To do this on iPhones, open the Health app. Tap create medical id to start setting up. Enter medical notes and add emergency contact information. For Android users, got to settings>users> select emergency information and continue to fill-in information.
Suzanne Perryman is the mom of two teen girls. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona where she celebrates the everyday on her website, Special Needs Mom. Her work has been featured at NBC Today Parents, Huffington Post Live, Brain,Child, Scary Mommy, The Mighty and various parenting platforms, anthologies and print publications. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.