Allison Outwater ’15 is the daughter of a first responder, but until last week – when Hurricane Sandy struck Hoboken and brought massive storm surge flooding and destructive high winds inches from the Stevens campus – she had never experienced an emergency situation first-hand.
“My dad volunteers with the local fire and first aid squads, so I kind of grew up watching emergencies happen, but they never affected me personally,” said Outwater, a Wall, N.J. native who is a double major in Mechanical and Civil Engineering. “But what happened so close to home here in Hoboken due to Hurricane Sandy was truly unbelievable. People lost their homes. They are sleeping in stairwells. It is just devastating.”
Outwater’s family home suffered roof damage from the storm, and Outwater herself – who stayed at Stevens during the storm – was without electricity or heat for days. But despite the campus community’s hardships, she – like many Stevens students – reported to City Hall as soon as it was safe to aid the city in its recovery.
There was much to do. On Tuesday, Outwater was part of a team made up of many Stevens students which delivered water to a 25-story building without electricity or water. They worked past dinner time and were physically and mentally exhausted.
But sleep was the least of Outwater’s concerns. At 3 a.m. the next morning, she returned to City Hall to help man the city’s call center.
Six hours later, Outwater found herself in charge of organizing hundreds of volunteers who reported for volunteer assignments on Wednesday.
“All of a sudden, I was the person responsible for getting all of the volunteers who showed up where they were most needed,” said Outwater, who was officially declared the volunteer coordinator for Hurricane Sandy by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her staff. “That first day there were about 300 people. The next day, there were 800.”
Throughout the week, Outwater managed countless recovery efforts which have been instrumental in getting Hoboken residents the care they need. Her role involved assigning tasks to teams of volunteers, responding to incoming requests for aid or specific issues volunteers brought back from the field, organizing sites to store donations of supplies, coordinating activities with the National Guard, FEMA, the City of Hoboken, and emergency personnel, and more.
Outwater was aided by core volunteers Jacob Vanderbilt, Ed Kubis and Matt Linden of Stevens, who also dedicated most of their time and energy last week to the recovery efforts. In addition, Outwater estimated that 50 to 100 other Stevens students volunteered for at least one day.
“I’m a freshman, who has only been here for two months, but Hoboken is my home now, and I was ready to do whatever was needed,” said Vanderbilt, a Chemical Engineering major from California.
The volunteer work was never easy but always rewarding.
Some volunteers checked on residents who were stuck inside apartment complexes with flood waters surrounding them on all sides. Working directly with the National Guard, which was called into Hoboken in the aftermath of the hurricane, they identified victims who needed emergency attention and helped to evacuate them to the hospitals.
One day, with Zimmer and other Stevens students, Vanderbilt rode a National Guard buffalo truck to a home for the elderly which had no water or power and was flooded by waist-deep water.
“The residents were totally cut off; they couldn’t get out,” he said.
The building was home to many Hispanic residents, and Vanderbilt – who studied Spanish in school – served as a translator. He helped canvass the building to identify seniors who needed to be evacuated and then helped to carry ailing residents down the stairs to safety.
Other volunteers delivered food, water, medications and generator fuel to individual residents or to distribution centers across the city. The centers stored the many supplies donated to Hoboken in the aftermath of the hurricane, including hundreds of thousands of ready-to-eat meals transported by enormous semi-trucks.
“The response of the public has been incredible,” said Outwater. “We’ve received so many donations that we have nowhere left to put them.”
The volunteers also worked with physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists – also all volunteers – who lent a hand last week at City Hall. The volunteer teams went door to door asking people if they had medications they needed refilled, and then brought the requests to the medical workers, who wrote the prescriptions. The volunteers then filled the prescriptions at CVS and Walgreens and delivered the medications back to those in need.
The recovery efforts in Hoboken are ongoing. While the Stevens campus has regained heat and power, some across Hoboken have not. Some residents lost everything when their homes flooded in the storm surge.
Outwater and her volunteers are still collecting supplies and resources at the distribution centers and will do so until power is fully restored. She urges anyone who can to consider volunteering until Hoboken is back on its feet.
“If you can get out to help, it is a life changing opportunity,” she said. “I can guarantee my life has been completely changed.”
The question is: How many lives has she changed?