A Day in the Life: Natural Disasters.

7.19.2010
So, I'm pretty sure that most of you reading this blog have no idea what I do. I think that a majority of you know that I work for UC Berkeley, maybe that I work in Student Affairs (maybe?) Some of you would get bonus points for knowing that my job title is "Resident Director" or describing it as either "a grown up RA" (my least favorite description ever) or as "the person who supervises the RAs."

Regardless, I haven't been really great at really describing to others what my job is about - what it is that I actually do. And also, why I do all these things. So, every now and again, I'm going to describe a day in the life - at least the interesting ones. Every day in my job is different - while I have the same core duties, my job is basically to respond to all the stuff that comes up in the  lives of the 500 students and 10 staff members I work with. Yeah. Sometimes it gets hectic.

For example, while I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, one of my buildings (I supervise two residence halls - this one is not the one I live in) caught on fire. ON. FIRE. As in, they are still repairing the fire damage. Luckily, the flames were confined to the basement storage area, but the smoke was thick in the entire building. Let's just say it took a few days for the hallways and rooms to air out. Another, extremely different example would be when a student breaks up with their partner, fails a test and comes home to find their roommate has eaten all their granola bars. This pushes them over the edge into a hysterical crying fit. You know where they end up? My office. I stock tissues.

I also thought it would be handy to keep a record of what's going on for me during the year. I mean, the number of topics I'm trained on is always expanding - because we never know what's going to happen each day. I try not to get freaked out by it.

So, last Wednesday was my third day of professional training for the year. (Sidenote - every year, before we start the two week extravaganza that is RA training, the professional staff also have a couple weeks of training to prepare for the upcoming year). Yesterday started off with a discussion about the newest supplies that we would be adding to our emergency supply inventory. This is an ongoing discussion for us because the threat of earthquake is extremely high in this area - and what are we going to do for our students in the case of a really devastating quake? My unit alone houses 1400 students and Bay Area emergency services tell residents to be prepared to care for themselves for 5-7 days with no assistance in the worst case. So we spend a fair amount of time discussing questions like: Where will we go if a building collapses? What will we eat? How will we care for injured students? What if, what if, what if?

New supplies for our RA staff included matching helmets and bright green vests. We got the same PLUS crowbars (awesome!), first aid supplies AND handheld radios. Without feeling too ridiculous, we learned the protocol for the radios: "Kristin to Laura" "Go ahead Kristin" "Kristin to Laura, your bedroom color palette is aMAzing!" "Copy that Kristin" and so on. (Sidenote: We also have another set of radios that are actually police issue radios, connected directly to our university police department, which is...nerve wracking.) We're always adding to our supplies in an effort to feel like we are as prepared as possible for any given emergency.

Lunch break.

So, for all of our discussion about earthquakes or other disasters where we would be forced to evacuate our buildings - we realized we didn't have as much planning done for events that would require us to stay inside. Active shooters, for example. Chemical or hazardous material spills, for another. We realized we didn't know the difference between lockdown (a police order stating no one can enter or exit) and shelter in place (a safety recommendation where you go inside the nearest building, and shut the windows and doors). So lots of planning ensued - how to let students know about the situation, what to do if a student wants to leave the building anyway, how to know when the restrictions have been lifted. Etcetera. The number of questions that come up for us in these situations is sometimes overwhelming - because everything we discuss is one more thing that we need to mentally prepare for, and also train our staff for.

Even though emergency preparedness isn't what I went to grad school for, it's a huge part of my job here, and part I bet you didn't know about.

Maybe next time I'll talk about the stuff you were expecting, hugs and feelings and stuff.

**I started this post last week, but tonight, no joke, there was another fire. Outside of my building, luckily, and this one much more suspicious, but maybe five more minutes and my other building would have been on fire again. Awesome, right?

2 comments:

Franklin said...

We have radios here too. It monitors the Montgomery County Fire channel and it can get annoying so I turn it off. We also have another radio that communicates with Navy Medical for those emergency situations. One would think cell phones are sufficient. Parts of a building can have little to no cell service and in disasters there may be no service at all.

But the radios are only good if they are turned on and the volume loud enough. People tend to turn it down too low while in meetings and such.

meghan said...

Well, so that all sounds pretty intense. I always wonder how I'll "handle" disaster-type situations.