On the night of Sept. 10 when three EF-2 tornadoes touched down in Sioux Falls, senior viking advisor Madeline Maloney was in Granskou Hall as rain pelted against her dorm room window.
She was standing in the fourth floor hallway chatting with a few of her residents about whether they should take the stairs and head for the basement, or continue watching as the lightning and thunder grew louder.
Maloney said her area director, Laura Schmit, had contacted Campus Safety to see if Granskou VAs ought to send their residents to the basement for shelter during the storm. Campus Safety said students didn’t technically have to leave their rooms until the outdoor warning sirens sounded.
But then, lights across campus flickered off.
Some dorm residents were without power for a few seconds around 11:30 p.m., while others in apartments, like Duluth, were without power until noon on Wednesday.
The sirens never made a sound near campus, a product of “human error” according to Mayor Paul TenHaken in a Sept. 11 morning news conference.
How did Viking Advisors get residents to safety?
Shortly after the lights turned back on, Maloney said her and fellow Granskou VAs started knocking on doors to direct people towards the basement.
Maloney oversees about 30 residents, and estimated about 27 of them went downstairs to wait out the storm.
“It’s kind of this weird mix,” Maloney said of directing students to the basement. “College students are old enough to make decisions for themselves, especially in regards to their safety. But, then again, we live in a community. I think it’s our responsibility to get [out] the information and say ‘hey, it’s unsafe to be here,’ but then give people the choice to stay.”
Corey Kopp, director of Campus Life, said that VAs in other halls also knocked on doors. He said some sent additional text messages to their residents or shouted instructions in their hallways.
What’s the current protocol for alerting dorm residents during a tornado?
According to Kopp, Campus Safety is expected to notify the Campus Life staff as soon as students should seek shelter. Campus Life then passes that information on to VAs, who are expected to alert their residents.
One of the training sessions that VAs attend before move-in day includes emergency training procedures. This includes protocol during tornadoes, according to Kopp.
“Tornadoes are tough because they show up somewhat unexpectedly,” Kopp said. “They’re hard to prepare for. They’re one of those things that’s over often more quickly than you’d expect — and in some cases, before we’ve even finished mobilizing.”
Why did Campus Safety not alert students until after the tornadoes were over?
According to Rick Tupper, director of Campus Safety it is Campus Life’s job to prepare VAs and residents on what to do during a natural disaster, like a tornado. He said Campus Safety deals with the aftermath.
Students were first directed around 11:45 p.m. to seek shelter in the basement by Campus Life. Students were directed back to their dorms around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to Maloney.
The first contact that Campus Safety made directly with students was a text message sent at 1:47 a.m. that read “A severe storm has impacted parts of Sioux Falls. Please check your email for more details.”
The emergency notification system (most recently branded Viking Alerts), wasn’t designed to be used during a tornado, Tupper said. Unlike a blizzard or winter storm warning, the National Weather Service can’t predict when a tornado will touch down.
“In a crisis situation, generally, you’re not going to get accurate information out,” Tupper said. “It’s going to be ‘here’s what I know right now.’ In [the tornado] situation, there wasn’t any information.”
Viking Alerts was previously an opt-in system to receive notifications from Campus Safety. Starting this academic year, all students receive the messages, but have the option to opt-out.
How is Campus Life preparing for next time?
No formalized tornado shelter charts exist for VAs, and none are available for students on the Augustana website, according to Kopp.
Kopp says he plans to do a walk-through of each building with Campus Safety in the coming weeks to decide the best places to use as tornado shelters. However, he said that some buildings are challenging to map.
For example, Solberg Hall’s basement has windows lining an entire wall, making it potentially unsafe during a natural disaster, according to Kopp. He said in some buildings, students may be safer in hallways or on the ground floor.
Senior VA Maloney said more formalized procedures in the future could make plans more concrete and waste less precious time.
“We’re fortunate it wasn’t closer to campus,” Maloney said of the tornado. “If it had been, I think it would be better to have the protocol where you go down [to the basement] as soon as there’s a warning in the area.”
Kopp said he and Campus Life will continue to debrief VAs and discuss their experiences in the coming weeks.