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HBCU Conference: Faculty and Community Plan For Future Hurricanes


Within days after the current hurricane season began, a consortium of academics and community organizers gathered in Jackson, Miss., to confront the likely possibility that Hurricane Katrina was not their last deadly storm.

The need for clear, well-researched disaster plans that include civic engagement was the focus of the symposium, “Response to Community Crisis: Lessons from Recent Hurricanes.” The event, held June 6-9, was sponsored by Tougaloo College and featured a diverse group of partners, including the HBCU Faculty Development Network Campus Compact, a group of college presidents committed to involving the academy in civic causes.

“HBCUs are very vulnerable in this kind of crisis because they tend to be very old and to have old institutional resources,” said Joseph Stevenson, director of Jackson State University’s executive doctoral program. “We have to apply and leverage knowledge within the institution and with each other.”

Stevenson was among several presenters who discussed the particular threat of hurricanes to historically Black colleges and universities, as demonstrated by the devastation of Xavier University of Louisiana, Southern University New Orleans and Dillard University during Katrina. All three campuses were closed for the fall semester. Xavier reopened in January while Southern moved many of its operations to its nearby Baton Rouge campus and opened a temporary campus of trailers. Dillard held classes for 1,048 students in the downtown Hilton Hotel and is slated to reopen on Sept. 25, 2006.

Presenters offered case studies and best practices for preparing campuses for disasters and using institutional resources — physical and intellectual — to help needy populations in the surrounding communities.

Stevenson’s doctoral students, using Geographic Information Systems and other research tools, developed proposals to create a database of information needed in emergencies.

“Where are the nearest health facilities? Where do you get 5,000 bottles of water? How do you move students out of the area?” were among the questions Stevenson said should be addressed in the plans.

The Jackson State presenters recommended that Dillard, SUNO and Xavier collaborate on a joint emergency preparedness plan that would be developed with the assistance of government and private funding.

Other presenters suggested special planning for preserving archives and collections, developing community-campus partnerships with organizations such as United Way and faith-based programs and assisting elderly citizens and residents of nursing homes in their surrounding communities.

Charlotte Hurst, a Dillard nursing professor, said Dillard’s strategic planning includes a component for helping to meet the needs of the elderly. It includes such practical items as survival kits, identification and medical information cards, she said.

“We are putting Dillard together with the community for recovery,” Hurst added. She outlined a program developed by Dillard President Dr. Marvalene Hughes, titled “A Katrina Recovery Initiative,” which includes oral history interviews, artistic programs and a summer institute research camp.

Presenters also recommended that institutions develop risk-assessment plans to determine how much loss — direct and indirect — they might sustain in major disasters.

Kimberly Reese, director of the Center for Student Leadership and Service at Xavier, noted in her presentation that many of the school’s valuable collections were preserved because of their emergency planning procedures.

Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, associate vice president for research at Florida A&M University, explained that some government funds are available to institutions only if they have a disaster plan in place.

Abdullah said the losses to institutions are more than physical. “Since Katrina, there is much more awareness of how a natural disaster can affect the research and service mission of the institutions. How do you put a price tag on that?”

—    By Pearl Stewart

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