Coronavirus is not the only challenge the Reed community faces this fall. Ongoing wildfires spanning the West Coast and high winds in Portland late last week left behind an intense layer of smoke, an Air Quality Index score upwards of 500, and a campus-wide power outage.
Although Reed has an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) set in place for most potential emergencies, including power outages, the plan did not anticipate the possibility of wildfire smoke, according to Director of Community Safety Gary Granger.
“The general principles of emergency management, evacuations, etc. have been applied to this unique situation [the smoke],” Granger said in an email to the Quest. “You can review how our Emergency Response Team (ERT) has been working during the current emergency by going to a page [on the website] specifically set up for that purpose.”
The ERP can be found on the Reed College website, as well as the Community Safety website.
Due to the danger posed by the smoke, campus operations were modified so community members would not have to be exposed to the smoke for long periods of time. All in-person classes went online, mailroom hours were shortened, the library closed, and COVID-19 surveillance testing was initially cancelled on Tuesday, Sept 15 but were later moved into the gym.
The smoke became a subject of worry for many community members, as being exposed to the particles for long periods of time can be detrimental to one’s health. Freshman Emma Marek said that Reed could have acted a bit more quickly when the smoke started to become a problem.
“I definitely felt safer having class indoors [online], but I think Reed could have gone fully online sooner because I did have an in-person class on a hazardous level smoke day,” Marek said.
According to Marek, there also appeared to be smoke in the hallways of Trillium, and she would have felt much safer if there was communication and reassurance that the air filters in the dorms worked.
Though the smoke came as a surprise, Reed was in fact prepared for the power outage on Monday, Sept 7, as the college has emergency generators in many of the buildings.
“Hallway lights are typically connected to emergency power, and many also have short battery backups,” Granger said. “This is to facilitate evacuations during major emergencies where power may be lost. Due to the varying ages of our buildings (some built in 1911 and others two years ago) the precise systems in the buildings vary.”
Some students were distressed when the power went out due to the lack of communication from the school regarding the cause of the outage and when the power would come back on.
“I wish the school communicated to us what was going on,” freshman Shalra Azeem said. “It was concerning not knowing when we might have power again.”
If a long-lasting power outage were to occur, classes would most likely have to be cancelled because internet access would become an issue for students, according to Granger.
“The decision to modify or cancel classes would be made by the Executive Team, including the President and Vice Presidents of the college, based on recommendations from the ERT,” Granger said.
Commons would also be affected by a long-lasting power outage, and according to Granger, the Bon Appétit staff would only be able to provide basic, non-perishable food items.
Students and members of the Reed community who are living on campus or are expecting to be on campus at any point this semester are encouraged to sign up for Reed campus alerts, which will notify them of any emergency on campus. Signing up for the alerts can be done in IRIS. This emergency notification system will be tested on Oct. 15 at 10:15 a.m. during the Great Oregon ShakeOut, the state-wide earthquake drill.