Hurricane Preparedness for Universities

Many universities are located in areas that are potentially threatened by hurricanes, ranging from high probability areas such as the Gulf Coast to lesser-threatened areas, like New England. Regardless of the degree of hurricane likelihood, for most Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard states, it's important to include a comprehensive hurricane plan as part of every university's emergency operations and management plans.

Here are some of the key elements to include in your university's hurricane plan:

Procedures. Who are the key personnel involved in decisions associated with hurricanes and how will decisions be made? National Weather Service cues, such as a hurricane warning can provide the trigger for hurricane preparedness action, but it's important to establish clearly who are the essential personnel required to manage hurricane preparation and recovery. Identifying key personnel in administration, facilities and maintenance, and campus police will help streamline hurricane-related decision making.

Communication. How will hurricane-related information be communicated to the university community? Faculty, staff and students are dependent on specific information and decisions from the university administration. An effective early-communication system can keep the entire community informed and prepared for upcoming changes to daily routine that a hurricane may force. Many universities choose to maintain a hurricane preparedness section of the school website to help the community plan ahead, but in the face of emergency, a more direct (less passive) communication system is essential. Email, phone or other out-going communications can spread important messages about evacuations, building closures or other specific information that is critical to personal safety.

Assessment. In the wake of a hurricane or tropical storm, who will determine the extent of damage and how will it be measured and addressed? Including an assessment strategy into an emergency management or operations plan will help expedite the resumption of normal service of the university. Involving a cross-functional team from facilities and maintenance, campus police, local fire and safety professionals, as well as an on-call emergency response restoration team, will help determine timelines and tactics for re-opening dorms, classes or regular operations. Many university community members may have left the area or will be primarily concerned with their personal property, so allowing the community to deal with the personal impact of a hurricane should be an important part of the assessment of operating conditions of the university.

Just like other emergency planning for your university, hurricanes deserve specific and thorough thought and planning and inclusion in the overall emergency management plan. Consideration of the various levels of impact a severe storm can cause will help your plan properly address the concern, reaction, and effects that a hurricane can impact upon on your university operations and community.