By, Rick Beitman
Saturday, September 27, 2014, will be remembered as a day of infamy for T-Birds, the day a storm swept through the Phoenix area, leaving a swath of damage in its wake. The storm, unprecedented in recent local memory, hit Thunderbird School of Global Management and the surrounding area particularly hard.
In the tumult, campus lost around 100 trees, which were toppled or uprooted, at least one vehicle was seriously damaged, and power lines were downed at the intersection of Greenway Road and 59th Avenue. Power on campus went out and was not restored until approximately 2:00 AM, on Sunday, September 28. Shortly after the storm hit, campus was placed under quarantine. Limited access was possible later in the day.
Students and workers were impacted greatly. Some T-Birds were stranded off campus and the rest had to contend with the power outage, flooding, debris, and the obstruction of many pathways on campus. The Commons was opened as a temporary shelter, of sorts, with complimentary food and water, and portable generators to power the microwaves. The Barton Kyle Young Building, powered by its own generators, became a haven of electricity and wireless internet where T-Birds crowded in to charge and use their electronic devices.
While it became a monumental event on campus, the storm affected T-Birds in different ways. – Emma Livingston, first year MBA student and native of Denver, Colorado, was caught outside in the initial burst of rain. She reported:
“ I was caught outside when the wind started and I have never experienced a wind like that. The palm trees were bending down and trashcans were being whipped across the ground and suddenly whole branches were being ripped from off the trees and I heard the crash of bigger trees falling down.
“The wind only lasted three minutes and the rain let up shortly after that but the damage was devastating. The campus looked like it had been hit by a tornado. I had to climb over giant tree trunks to get past the Coleman Lounge. All over campus, people were wandering out of their dorms where they’d weathered the storm to survey the damage and take pictures by the especially large trees that had fallen over.”
Muhammad Mustafa, a second year MBA student from Amman, Jordan, was also on campus that day. For him, the storm was educational and he took a more practical view. He said the inclement weather made him consider the business implications:
“The power outage and the damage on campus was an interesting experience for me. It made think about how to be prepared for such situations. As a Thunderbird, and a global citizen, I should consider the probability and the impact of natural disasters on business.”
Not all T-Birds experienced the storm firsthand. Many learned of it while away at NSHMBA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. – Pia Oestlien, a MA in Global Affairs student from Washington, D.C., was spending the weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she learned of the news:
“I found out about the storms through a friend the following day. When I returned from out of town, I went to campus to look at the damage. I was shocked. I was forewarned but to see it in person is another thing. I’m just glad no one was hurt.”
Even once the storm had passed and power was restored, the aftermath of the storm left its mark on the psyche of many T-Birds. Ariane Weidner, a MS in Marketing student from Dortmund, Germany, took it personally. On Monday, September 29, classes were cancelled. She did not want to sit around and do nothing, so she organized a student initiative to help facilities management clean up campus. Of the experience, she said:
“It was heartbreaking to see campus like that, especially after everything Thunderbird has been going through. It felt personal.”
Within days, crews had cleared much of the debris and campus began to look much like it did before. Of this, Livingston said:
“I was impressed by how quickly security and the campus administration responded to the damage. And I was also impressed by the students who organized to help with campus clean up.”
While the events of that Saturday and its aftermath will not soon be forgotten, the positive response of students and the relatively quick restoration of campus indicate an enduring trend for T-Birds: We can weather anything. We have weathered financial difficulties and a global recession. We have weathered the storm of the decade. And we are still standing. We are still here.