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Getting HBCUs in the Disaster-Response Loop

Getting HBCUs in the Disaster-Response LoopBy Dr. Ladd G. Colston

Natural and man-made disasters represent an ominous threat to the research, instructional and public service missions of colleges and universities. From the bombings in Oklahoma City to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to last year’s Hurricane Frances, the potential damage to campus buildings, human life and irreplaceable archival resources is a reality worthy of administrative pre-planning.

In March 2004, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — a historically Black land grant institution — worked in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to sponsor the workshop “Partnering through Emergency Management and Mitigation” for historically Black colleges and universities located in the Mid-Atlantic region. All 16 HBCUs in FEMA’s Region III (Del., Md., Pa., Va., D.C. and W.Va.) sent university representatives to participate. Since a majority of the university representatives came from administrative affairs, physical facilities and/or campus safety units, the primary focus was directed toward campus safety and security in the event of a disaster. 

A surprise to all of the HBCU representatives was the fact that there was a Nov. 1 (2004) deadline for institutional inclusion within all FEMA approved Section 322 state and local community hazard mitigation plans. If a school is not a part of this planning document, there is little to ensure financial relief for disaster assistance costs as well as the continued functionality of critical services and facilities resulting from a natural disaster.

The need to continuously update HBCU Campus Emergency Response Plans also became evident when workshop presentations and resources were provided on the Disaster Resistant University (DRU). These are colleges and universities where operational plans have been made to minimize the threats posed to campus facilities and missions by natural and man-made disasters. It was pointed out that DRUs are mostly majority institutions that have gone through the process of mitigating potential damages to their campus infrastructure by making a commitment to organize resources and develop a strategic plan in the event of a disaster. 

The application of Geographic Information Systems research and Hazard research (HAZUS) to disaster prevention and preparation was well received by HBCU representatives. There was an interest in learning and using this information, and fortunately, this computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing disaster events is being introduced at conferences such as the annual HBCU GIS Summer Workshop sponsored by Howard University. 

Outcomes and recommendations from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Workshop have primarily focused on expanding HBCU involvement in emergency management and mitigation. Partnerships were forged between HBCU representatives and their local and state emergency management officials. Concerted efforts were made to include HBCU institutions within their local community Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plans. HBCU attendance was increased at the annual Emergency Management Higher Education Conference sponsored by the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Md. Lastly, FEMA has committed to expand the workshops into its Region IV (Southeastern region) where over half of America’s HBCUs are located.

Colston is the associate vice president for commercialization and outreach at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, Md.

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