Despite the major 7.2-magnitude earthquake that rattled southcentral Alaska on Friday, UAA has reopened all of main campus on Wednesday Dec. 5th.
“It’s pretty amazing that we’re going to open five days after the second largest earthquake in recorded history to hit Anchorage,” said UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen.
Since the quake, multiple engineers have assessed each building and concluded that damage sustained to the campus was largely “cosmetic” in nature.
“There is no structural damage which is fantastic,” said Sandeen. “We did have a number of water leaks and fire system leaks that have been repaired.”
One such leak was caused by a broken sprinkler in the Alaska Airlines center. Despite the leak Sandeen is optimistic that a quick response from the university may have reduced damage to the center’s main basketball court.
“We got in there as fast as possible to suction out the water and we’re hoping that there is minimal damage… my fingers are crossed,” Sandeen said.
UAA Athletics Department is working to reschedule events set to take place in the Alaska Airlines to other available campus facilities, such as The Wells Fargo Sports Complex.
Sandeen confirmed that commencement will take place at the Alaska Airlines Center as planned on Dec. 16.
According to Sandeen, the priority of cleanup and repair has been to get classrooms in order as quickly and safely as possible. With only a few days before finals, classes have resumed as planned Wednesday Dec. 5.
UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus will remain closed. The university which leases Eagle-River Chugiak space is currently in the process of determining the condition of the facility with the owner.
Students who had classes at the Chugiak-Eagle River Campus can find the location and time of their rescheduled classes on UAOnline.
Despite these hiccups and two days of campus closure, Sandeen believes professors will be able to navigate and adjust their lesson plans successfully.
“Faculty know how to be flexible” Sandeen said, “I’ve met with a couple of faculty and their minds are already geared towards how [they] can accommodate students towards the end of the semester.”
While all the buildings on the main campus have been cleared to reopen, UAA Facilities staff and contractors will continue to work on repairs.
“You’re going to see some things roped off but day by day those things are going to come down” Sandeen said.
Sandeen credits the university’s fast response to preparedness of the UAA’s Incident Management Team.
According to Sandeen, team members began contacting each other within five minutes of the earthquake. Within 30 minutes, there was a joint decision made to close campus, within 45 minutes,an emergency operations center was up running and within two hours, engineers were on site and assessing damages.
“We just kicked into action following the earthquake” Sandeen said.
Sandeen, originally from the San Francisco bay area of California is no stranger to earthquakes herself. In 1989, Sandeen was caught in the Loma Prieta earthquake, a 6.9-magnitude quake that caused extensive damage in northern California and killed over 60 people.
On Friday morning as soon as the shaking subsided Sandeen, who was in a meeting on the third floor of the Rasmuson Hall jumped into action.
“I checked to see if everyone in the building was okay… then I ran to the window and scanned over the buildings on campus… I could see everything was still standing and I didn’t see any smoke or fire so at that point I knew we we’re going to be okay” Sandeen said.
Sandeen would like to stress that there are resources available for students affected by the quake.
“We do have a student support fund through the Dean of Students office, so if students have special needs relating to earthquake recovery we can use that flexibly,” Sandeen explained.
“I encourage any students who has some kind of financial need from this earthquake to reach out to the dean of students and put a request in to see what we can do,” Sandeen said.
Additionally, Sandeen wants students to know that counseling is readily available to students in the aftermath of the quake.
“This is a stressful event happening at a stressful time in the semester,” Sandeen said “I really encourage students to reach out for help, assistance, or someone to talk to if they need it.”
Overall, Sandeen is proud of the fast and cooperative response university staff, faculty and students had to the earthquake.
“It makes happy to be an Alaskan and a Seawolf” Sandeen said.
At approximately 8:30 a.m. an intense magnitude-7 earthquake struck the Anchorage region.
Almost immediately, the National Weather Service issued a tsunami warning in the Cook Inlet and South Kenai Peninsula which has since been canceled.
Student union immediate aftermath. Video credit: Benjamin Miller
Both the initial and subsequent earthquakes and numerous aftershocks have dealt significant damage to the UAA campus. “We’re in the process of assessing the damage with our facilities team… we’ll continue to update [people] online and on social media,” said UAA Public Relations and Marketing Manager Kirstin Olmstead.At 9:18 a.m. the University closed campus with this alert: “The UAA Campus is closing. All non-essential personnel should go home. Please do not come to campus if you are not already here. We will continue to update.”
At 10:43 a.m the University sent out another alert directing students on and near campus to safety
“Employees and students near campus who need shelter, can go to the Gorsuch Commons in the student housing complex. We will continue to provide updates.”
At 11:25 a.m. the university issued the following alert closing multiple campuses for the foreseeable future: “UAA and the Chugiak-Eagle River Campus will remain closed through the weekend”
USUAA Vice President, Clare Baldwin, was in the Rasmussen Hall when the quake took place this morning.
“I dove under my desk,” Baldwin, student employee in the Dean’s office for the College of Business, said.
“My computer monitor falls on the table and it cracked… it’s all broken, all the pictures on walls and glass awards on shelves have fallen there’s glass everywhere,” Baldwin said. “The people [in] my office… we all kept yelling back and forth at each other while the building was shaking.”
After the quake, Baldwin described finding cracks in stairwells and walls of the Rassuman Hall.
“There’s damage everywhere,” she said.
Baldwin shared that staff and faculty did what they could to ensure the safety of students during the event.
“The chancellor and the provost were next door, immediately after the earthquake the two of them ran up and down the hallways making sure everyone in the building was OK,” Baldwin added.
“We’re in the process of assessing the damage of not only UAA but also all our the associated community campuses in the south-central region… the Matsu, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak [and others]… the university is working diligently to ensure the safety and well-being of all students faculty and staff,” Robbie Graham, Associate Vice President of Public Affairs for the University of Alaska Statewide, said.
This is a developing story.