Student Life Profile: Katie Sorey

The following article documents an interview between Sara Snelson and Student Life Staff member Katie Sorey. Sorey discusses the effects and impacts of the February 2021 ice storm from her perspective. 

Sara Snelson: “How were you impacted by the ice storm?”

Katie Sorey: “I was personally and professionally impacted by the ice storm, because I was on campus. I am one of the staff members who has a staff apartment. When we lost water across campus, in the residence halls, academic and administrative buildings, I lost water too.”

Sara Snelson: “From your perspective, what was going on? How did you feel?”

Katie Sorey: “Obviously this hasn’t been the first water outage I’ve experienced as a staff member, or even as somebody who lives on campus. As soon as we realized that water pressure was decreasing or had been lost, we started to make sure we had potable water for students. We started getting bottled water distributed for facilities, and those in the Caf and even up here in Student Life. We already had a reserve of bottled water ready, just because that’s what happens in Jackson.”

“When we realized we had toilets not flushing, the different offices started communicating of how to handle that situation, since that could clearly devolve into a public health crisis. John Fenner worked very closely with Coleman Bond, Danny Neely, and other members of the facilities department to start the ‘bucket brigade’* for toilets. And I’ve experienced that as a student, because I was here in 2010, when we had the first big city-wide water outage due to cold weather. That was the exact same process in some ways, in that the facilities came and bucket flushed. It’s not a glamorous system, but it’s the tried-and-true standard. It’s truly the safest that can be done in a situation where there isn’t widely accessed water.”

“What made this situation so much more difficult was the pandemic and that the roads were impassable. Being stuck here was hard. And I know that was very hard for students, as well. As somebody who’s prone to worrying, I’m really proud and grateful for the different staff divisions on campus who stepped up ad prepared for this. We had facilities team members who had been staying on campus since Monday night, before we even lost water. They saw the forecast, and knew it was important to have staff presence 24 hours a day. That’s no small thing. Thank you to our Aramark (Caf) partners, because they had to come from off campus. They braved the ice and drove here to make sure those of us on campus were fed. I’m really proud of our RA’s, who on the rest day, dropped everything and made the essential snack bags. Which, incidentally we had those lying around to distribute for COVID. And because we had that system in place, we were able to redeploy it in a way to give students something for Caf breaks. I’m glad we had those resources in place to support students and staff.”

Sara Snelson: “What did an average day look like for you?”

Katie Sorey: “Waking up far earlier than I wanted to, just to get dressed for the cold weather. I had to be prepared to walk across campus at a moment’s notice, because we couldn’t rely on our vehicles getting anywhere, and the golf carts were already being deployed by Campus Safety. I got a lot of good use out of my duck boots, and that’s why I was able to make it through the week.”

“Doing residence hall check at night was something we did to assist RA’s, to make sure toilets were working, or see if we needed extra water to flush, but just making sure everyone was safe and okay really. John Fenner, Molly Ross, and I walked every single residence hall at night to make sure things were as safe and clean as possible. Our facilities staff deserves accolades and so do my Student Life collagues, because that was an all-hands-on deck effort.”

Sara Snelson: “Did you have any memorable experiences?”

Katie Sorey: “One of my favorite memories was Thursday, when we spent all day coordinating with local Papa John’s pizzas. We got over 350 pizzas delivered to campus to make sure students had a hot supper that night, and to give the Caf workers a break. John Sewell, Annie Mitchell, and Dean Brown used their personal vehicles to go get pizzas, load them up and bring them to campus. As I’m waiting outside by the plaza fountain area with Newlon Gillham, Annie Mitchell pulls up in her SUV. It looked just like a commercial—you see this nice SUV on the snow, and it looked so picturesque. But, her SUV was stacked to the brim with pizzas, and then we unloaded them. We had Whitney Emrich, the Vice President of Finance, and her husband here too. It was so encouraging to see every level of staff help as much and as safely as they could.”

“On Saturday, I was able to drive the College van to take some students to get showers at the Flowood YMCA. That was nice, because I got to interact with students I hadn’t been able to interact with all semester. Those are really the moments as a staff member I treasure. Just those good ole’ unstructured moments, getting to do life together.”

Sara Snelson: “Do you have any takeaways from this experience? Any lessons learned?”

Katie Sorey: “As bad as it was, I can’t help but think it could’ve been so much worse. We, as a school, were as prepared as we could be, for the trifecta of a natural disaster, during a pandemic, without water. Usually, I’m the first one who will later self-criticize and think of all the things we should’ve done, but the school did everything they could’ve.”

“With the roads being so icy, we weren’t even able to get port-a-potties on campus. It wasn’t a matter of poor planning or poor execution; it physically could not happen. And, port-a-potties freeze, so even if we had them, they wouldn’t have been safe to use.”

Sara Snelson: “Do you think you would change anything for the future to prepare for this?”

Katie Sorey: “The pandemic and icy roads really complicated everything. When this had happened before, the best practice for a multi-day water outage event is to get everyone off campus. That physically could not happen with the icy conditions and COVID-19 concerns.”

“I really appreciate my colleagues. I know everybody has worked so hard across divisions and offices, and a lot of hard, unglamorous work went unseen by students and other staff. We got through it.”

*Bucket brigade refers to the process of distributing buckets of water across campus to dump into toilets and flush them.