Despite the 96 U.S. deaths during Sandy’s destructive course along the East Coast and the 69 killed as it swept across the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy did very little to affect Boston in comparison to New York and Atlantic City. Since the storm avoided us and swung inland through New York and north into Canada, it is easy to forget the implications it had on our community. Nevertheless, MIT was both affected by the hurricane and is helping the recovery from the aftermath.
Obviously, the MIT campus did not experience anything like the havoc wreaked upon the towns and cities further south. This was my first hurricane, and I was genuinely expecting full tree-destroying winds and monsoon-like rain. I was almost disappointed by what I actually experienced. I’ve seen worse, if perhaps not for such a sustained period of time, back home in the United Kingdom, home of the perpetual drizzle. However, I must admit to feeling a bit relieved at the lack of severity, as I would not wish the destruction that happened elsewhere on anyone.
Despite the lack of a direct hurricane hit, even the small possibility of damage caused action to be taken. MIT cancelled classes and told students and non-essential staff to stay at home, as did most of the other schools in the Boston area. This was a very rare occurrence for the Institute — the last time MIT was closed by inclement weather was winter two years ago.
As reported in last Tuesday’s edition of The Tech, preparations were made to mitigate the risk of flooding. Large quantities of food were ordered by all the dorms and the food outlets in the Student Center. Even I ventured out to Trader Joe’s to pick up some emergency cereal.
The measures MIT took also extended beyond the MIT community; the deadline for early admissions was made “flexible” to compensate for the inevitable delays that will affect a large number of prospective students. Last year approximately 6,000 students applied early, an indication of the number of students that might be impacted. However, the office won’t rigorously check whether delayed applicants were affected by the storm. Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill told The Boston Globe, “Generally speaking, students are not going to over-abuse this, and we are going to trust that anyone who used the flexible deadline really needed it.” In fact, he also said that this was not as big a change in approach as most domestic students might think, as weather-related deadline extensions are commonly afforded to applicants from other countries where inclement weather is a more regular occurrence.
Another interesting consequence of Hurricane Sandy is the formation of the “Hurricane Hackers.” In the wake of the storm, this group of MIT programmers came together to come up with recovery solutions to aid the relief effort in other parts of the country. They started by brainstorming and gathering information on a shared Google Drive document before proceeding to put together a timeline of key events in the hurricane’s progress. They also wrote software to remove the effects of Instagram on the huge numbers of photos uploaded to Facebook, to make them usable in analyzing the state of buildings, and created the “SandysList” app to connect those in need to those who have what’s needed. In fact, they are still active and seeking more members.
In light of the continued fallout from the hurricane, with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability stating that 32 percent of people in New Jersey and nearly a million in New York remain without power, I find it both inspiring to see action being taken and interesting to note the way it is happening. Despite the small direct impact of the storm on the MIT community, certain members are using their strengths help the relief effort over the whole affected area. If this attitude spreads to the wider community, as I hope it will, the recovery after Sandy can only be hastened.
The Hurricane Hackers can be contacted via @HurricaneHackrs on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.