Veronica With Four Eyes

What If I Get Trapped In My Dorm?

When I got trapped in my dorm for 60 hours during my freshman year of college, I wasn’t prepared for sheltering in place in my dorm as well as I would have liked, and hadn’t thought too much about answering the question “what if I get trapped in my dorm?” Following that incident, I changed how I prepare for emergencies in my dorm and started to come up with strategies that would help me for handling being trapped in my dorm unable to leave for hours or days on end. Here are my tips for what to do if you get trapped in a dorm or have to stay in the dorm for a longer period of time.

Potential reasons for being trapped in a dorm

There are a few potential reasons for why someone might get trapped in their dorm for several hours, which can include:

  • Being sick in college
  • Severe weather making it unsafe to go outside
  • Requirements to shelter in place
  • Power outage
  • Issue with the building, i.e flooding on another floor
  • Police investigation/presence in a neighboring area

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Have emergency alerts enabled

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have campus emergency alerts enabled so that students can make sure that they can receive important safety information. I receive emergency alerts as text messages and phone calls to my cell phone which I signed up for on my campus emergency services website, and also receive emails with extended safety instructions automatically. I want to make sure that I receive information as quickly as possible and that I won’t accidentally have information get blocked by a spam filter.

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Have non-perishable food, or better yet, get food in advance

One of my top tips for being trapped in a dorm is to have non-perishable food on hand, or to get food in advance of a planned shelter-in-place situation. I was once trapped in my dorm for over 40 hours due to a snowstorm and only ate peanut butter and jelly crackers, and after that I learned to get food from the dining hall before a snowstorm so that I would have access to healthy and more tasty food options. Of course, it’s better to have the peanut butter crackers than nothing, so I recommend having snacks and other non-perishables just in case.

Most campus dining halls also offer pre-packaged “sick” meals for people who cannot get to the dining hall that can be picked up by a roommate or other staff member and brought to students at no additional charge. Check out your campus dining website for more information.

Examples of food to get from the dining hall

Some examples of items I would take from the dining hall before a snowstorm or extreme weather include:

  • Yogurt parfaits layered with fruit and granola
  • Sliced pizza
  • Untoasted or cold sandwiches and wraps with crunchy vegetables and sauces on the side
  • Salads with dressing on the side
  • Soup in a reusable container
  • Dessert bars or cookies
  • Prepackaged items from the grab and go section

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Check with campus emergency services for information on supplies

Sometimes if there is an extended shelter-in-place situation, campus emergency services will distribute supplies to students such as food, water, flashlights, or other relevant items. I recommend monitoring the campus emergency services website or campus email to see when and where items will be distributed. When I had to shelter in place due to severe weather, a campus staff member came to my room and brought items to me, which was extremely helpful!

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If there is no electricity, be careful leaving the dorm

My friend learned the hard way that when the power goes out, their dorm door will not work properly and they will have trouble getting back into their dorm or in the building if they leave. Plus, there is the additional hazard of power lines on the ground outside. While it’s important to follow evacuation instructions, I recommend having something to prop your door open with if you have to make a quick trip down the hall, or to ask building staff about what to do if your dorm key does not work.

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Find things to do indoors

Honestly, one of the things that has helped me with being trapped in my dorm is finding things to do indoors or with technology. While homework is always a great option, some other free things to do with technology include:

  • Watching documentaries with Kanopy
  • Using online college library resources
  • Creating art or making a craft
  • Learning more about personal technology- try out some new Alexa skills!
  • Watch a movie (bonus if it has audio description!)
  • Do an online workout

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Listen to instructions from campus staff

While this post has lots of helpful information, it is not a replacement for advice from campus staff or other emergency officials. Listen to all instructions from campus staff and use your best judgment when determining whether an environment is safe or not, or whether evacuation or further actions may be necessary. In addition, I recommend having phone numbers for campus emergency offices stored in your phone so that these can easily be located in case they are needed.

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More tips for how to handle being trapped in a dorm

  • When the wifi was out, I still had access to campus internet through a wired connection at my desk- I talk more about this in Ten Facts About College Campus Wifi
  • When in-person plans to hang out with friends got canceled, we video chatted instead and got to talk in our respective dorms, which was a lot of fun!
  • For students that are concerned that a friend is trapped in their dorm, a wellness check can be ordered through campus security to confirm their well-being. One of my friends did this for me when they hadn’t heard from me and I had a severe migraine
  • In the majority of instances where I have been trapped in my dorm, in-person classes were canceled so I didn’t have to worry about leaving for class

What If I Get Trapped In My Dorm? How to be prepared if you get stuck in your dorm for 24 hours or more due to severe weather or other uncontrollable issues