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Dealing with Emergencies During College

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Hurricane Sandy forced mid-Atlantic colleges, universities, and schools to close for several days. Weather-related school closings are somewhat common, but emergencies, accidents, disasters and other tragedies can strike in the blink of an eye—often happening with little or no warning.

Whether it’s a sudden illness, a bad accident, a natural disaster, or any other type of emergency that requires attention and will affect your school schedule, it’s a good idea to react properly. Staying calm in the midst of an emergency is tough for most people, but if you’re as prepared as you can be, things will seem a bit smoother.

Understand Different Types of Campus Emergencies

If you know the different types of potential emergencies that can happen, you can educate yourself about the proper plan of action on your campus.

Emergencies can include things like:

  • Fire or arson
  • Bomb threat
  • Perpetrator, gunman, or other suspected criminal loose on or near campus
  • Civil disturbance or riot, such as a student protest gone awry
  • Weather emergencies that may require evacuation, such as hurricanes, blizzards, and tornadoes
  • Transportation problems, such as closed roads near campus or mass-transit system closures

Most colleges and universities have emergency response and recovery plans in place to notify students of campus emergencies. School officials may use several different methods of communication like emails, automated phone calls, and text messages. If you get a new phone number or change your email address, remember to make sure your school has your current correct contact information! Otherwise, you could miss out on important emergency alerts. Also take time to familiarize yourself with methods of emergency communication on your campus.

If something happens, whether you are in class, on your way to class, or in your dorm, try your best to stay calm. Call 911 and/or campus security if necessary.

Dealing with Family and Medical Emergencies

Catching colds or getting the flu is completely common during college, but most students don’t have to deal with life-changing issues like a cancer diagnosis or unplanned pregnancy. Issues like these can affect you as well as your family, and if you or a loved one becomes seriously ill or a friend or family member passes away, you’ll most likely have to miss some of your classes. Some emergencies even require students to temporarily withdraw from school.

Medical emergencies that require immediate attention, such as heart attacks, can happen at any time, too. Common emergencies include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Allergy attacks / anaphylactic shock
  • Loss of consciousness / passing out
  • Seizures
  • Alcohol poisoning

If you’re aware that someone with you has experienced one of the things listed above or is otherwise dangerously sick or injured, call 911. Follow the dispatcher’s instructions and help keep the person safe and comfortable until professional help arrives. If blood or other bodily fluids are present, you may want to wear gloves or place plastic bags on your hands if they are easily available.

What to Do When You Have to Miss Class

If you are seriously sick and miss class—or you know that you’ll be missing a lot of classes for another emergency reason—you should inform your professors individually and contact your college’s Office of Student Affairs to inform the Dean of Students. Policies vary from school to school, but you may have to submit documentation, such as a doctor’s note, to be excused if you missed an important exam or due date that must be made up.

If there was a death in the family and you informed your professors of the situation, many are compassionate and will allow you to make things up, but you may still want to inform the Dean. Some colleges may require you to submit a newspaper obituary or a mass card from the funeral services, but once again, policies vary.

Keep an Emergency Kit

Most freshmen are more excited about buying a bed-in-a-bag and dorm decorations than they are about purchasing common sense necessities. When you make a run to the store for shampoo, toothpaste, and other toiletries, be sure to pick up a first aid kit, too. Ready-to-go kits stocked with first aid supplies are easy to find, but you can probably make your own a bit cheaper. (Learn what you need from Nemours.)

One final word of wisdom—you’ve probably been advised not to keep a lot of cash or other valuables in your dorm, but make sure you’ve got twenty or fifty bucks safely hidden away in case of emergency. Natural disasters can cause power outages, which means credit card machines and ATMs could be out of order for several days.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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