This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
WEST GOSHEN — When Tuesday’s severe storm knocked power out all over the greater Philadelphia area, affecting more than 250,000 people, that included students at West Chester University.
For many, including senior Thomas Abramouski, he found himself without shelter as the storm caused him and his friends to be unable to gain access into a residence at the East Village Apartments on south campus.
“After we lost power on campus, I went out with some people to get some food because there was no way to get food otherwise,” Abramouski said. “When we came back, we tried to get into the building down on south campus. We tried the card keys and couldn’t get in.”
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With no electricity, the building’s security system — a modern, computerized card key access monitored by Public Safety — didn’t work, leaving anyone outside of the apartment complex stranded.
To get in, the student resident must swipe a key card to get into the building before inserting the key card into the door of the apartment.
“From what I heard, the ones inside were working, but the outside one wasn’t,” Abramouski said. “From what I’ve been told, the ones on the inside work on a battery, so even without the power they still work, but obviously that doesn’t help you if you can’t get into the building in the first place.”
Abramouski and his friends, unable to charge their phones, had no way to reach anyone. Just before midnight, as they were about to head to the university’s Public Safety, another East Village resident arrived with a working phone.
“He called (Public Safety) and said he was there at his building and can’t get in and asked if there was anything they could do,” Abramouski said. “They said, ‘No, there’s nothing we can do.’ They were very short with him. They asked if he had friends on north campus that he could stay with. He said yes and they said, ‘Okay, that’s where you’re staying’ and hung up on him.”
The student lent his phone to Abramouski and they were able to get a hold of another friend living at The Edge, an off-campus student housing facility which had power.
But as they were leaving, Abramouski saw other people sitting in their cars, also unable to get into their buildings.
Since the newer apartment-style residences are supervised by the University of Student Housing (USH), Pam Sheridan, executive director of the university’s Office of Communications, said Public Safety contacted USH’s after-hours maintenance technician after contact from a student.
Once Abramouski and his friends returned to the East Village at 1 a.m., the power was still out, but they found someone had propped open the front door.
“About 45 minutes later (from Public Safety’s initial contact to USH), the entry doors were propped open for students to have access to the building until power could be restored,” Sheridan said.
According to Sheridan, the USH has specific personnel to handle 24-hour emergency maintenance for the apartments, but none of them were contacted by students living in the East Village during or after the storm.
“While I cannot comment on a phone conversation between Public Safety and students, I will say that service WCU students and keeping them safe is a top priority of both USH and the Public Safety department, especially after a severe storm,” Sheridan said.
In an emergency, Public Safety has sleeping arrangements, typically at Ehringer, Sturzbecker and Hollinger. But since those three buildings were also without power, Killinger was designated a one-time shelter area where some students were temporarily moved, said Sheridan.
Abramouski, who lives in Tyson Hall — which was also without power and had a door propped open — was shocked at the lack of help they received from the university.
“I was amazed that there wasn’t anything we could do,” Abramouski said. “You would think in an emergency situation, if there isn’t an emergency way to get into the building, you would think Public Safety or someone would have some sort of bulletin or announcement saying what we could do.”