Snow poses safety concerns, challenges for Halloween plans

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Joey Rearick
News Editor,

Last Saturday, as the campus prepared to celebrate Halloween, a snowstorm swept over the Arlington area, causing Dutchess county officials to declare a state of emergency. As inclement weather continued throughout the day, causing periodic blackouts and dangerous conditions on campus, student organizers and administrators deliberated as to whether to cancel events scheduled for that night.

Halloween programming has long been a source of income for the senior class, which charges a fee for admission to the annual dance-party event held in the Villard Room. Class officers and other senior volunteers depend upon revenue from the party to raise money for class events, whose costs far outweigh the budget allocated to the class by the Vassar Students Association (VSA). But as late as the evening of Oct. 29, the event and the profit expected to result from ticket sales at the door were jeopardized by the conditions outdoors.

Class of 2012 President Pam Vogel '12, in conjunction with her class council and several College administrators, held meetings at the beginning of October and on Wednesday, Oct. 26 to finalize details for the event. But the planning that emerged from those meetings did not include a specific contingency plan for serious snow, she said.

"We didn't know if the event was actually happening or not on Saturday," said Vogel. Regardless, the senior class advisor, Assistant Dean for Campus Activities Teresa Quinn, urged the seniors to continue preparing the event. "Terry was great," Vogel said. "But that was really all we could do—set up like it was happening. Then, around four, we took a break and went home. She advised those working with her to charge the electronics they needed to communicate, in case intense weather conditions caused parts of the campus to lose power.

Sure enough, power was lost shortly thereafter in the Town Houses and the Watson apartments, which house faculty members. Dean of the College Chris Roellke informed students about the outages in an email, noting, "several tree limbs have fallen on Raymond Avenue." He assured students that Buildings and Grounds was "working hard to clear roadways and pedestrian paths," but made no assurances that the events planned for latter that night would take place.

Vogel rushed back towards the Villard Room after experiencing the blackout in the Town Houses, where she lives. When she reached Main Building, she was met by a contingent of administrators, including Director of Residential Life Luis Inoa and Dean of Students David "D.B." Brown. The group seriously discussed the possibility of canceling the night's events because of logistical concerns and worries about students' safety in the weather.

"The general attitude from everyone was just to try to continue with the evening's events," Vogel said. "But when we had the power outages, it became clear that cancellation was on the table." She pressed the administrators to avoid that option, and eventually, all agreed to move forward with the Villard Room party and another Halloween gathering scheduled to take place on the second floor of the Students' Building.

Another potentially devastating incident occurred around 6 p.m. For a few minutes, the power in Main Building faded in and out, causing concerns that the party would be unable to play music or otherwise utilize electricity. But power soon returned in full, and the party occurred as scheduled.

Then, just as the Villard Room began to fill, a fire alarm went off, requiring the evacuation of Main Building. This might have caused an abrupt end to the party, but Vogel and her team were prepared after last year's Sexy-Centennial, which ended early for the same reason. "After that event," Vogel said, "we had a plan to keep the party going even after [the alarm]>happened. After fire marshals established there were no safety concerns, the party continued. According to Vogel, cash receipts at the door exceeded $3000, not counting V-cash payments or ticket sales made during the previous week.

The weather also complicated other matters on campus. Administrators were especially concerned about the way the poor conditions might exacerbate an issue that they always confront when the campus celebrates Halloween: excessive alcohol consumption among students. Because the county was experiencing a state of emergency, its Emergency Response Vehicles were in high demand; they could not be counted upon to respond to all instances in which students drank so much they required medical attention. Roellke asked students to consider this issue and to behave accordingly. "Dutchess County emergency responders are busy assisting members of our community during this emergency," he wrote in another email. "It is imperative that the Vassar community recognize the importance of these emergency resources and that we do our very best to minimize our need for these services."

Vassar College Emergency Medical Services (VCEMS), a group of students trained to respond to medical emergencies on campus, shouldered most of the load in responding to alcohol-related incidents despite adverse conditions. "The weather affected our duties quite dramatically," said Captain of VCEMS Sam Black '12. Because of the weather, VCEMS was unable to use Security vehicles that are normally available to them on large party nights. Team members responded to many calls on foot or in their single EMS vehicle, but were unable to field calls in the Town Houses because they deemed the roads from campus too dangerous to travel. For calls from the Town Houses, VCEMS immediately contacted Transcare, an independent EMS contractor, to assist those in need.

In all, EMS responded to 11 calls on Saturday night, all of them alcohol-related. This represents a slight decrease from the 12 incidents reported during last year's Halloween celebrations, and a significant reduction from 2009's 16 EMS incidents. According to Black, only two students were transported to the hospital this year for alcohol-related reasons.

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