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Friday, January 15, 2021

Campus

Campus stays prepared 5 years after Hurricane Ike


Jessica-Web-1

Emergency Management Specialist Kelly Boyson and junior computer-science major Olurotimi Adeyemo are staying a few steps ahead of natural disasters at an emergency operations center in the Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting. | Ellen Goodacre/The Daily Cougar

Five years ago, a Category 2 hurricane made landfall on Galveston Island in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2008. Hurricane Ike caused an estimated $20 to $25 million in damages to UH buildings, according to a press release published in 2008. But the University weathered the storm better than many other parts of the city.

At that time, Associate Vice President for Plant Operations Dave Irvin credited that success to lessons learned during Tropical Storm Allison and Hurricane Rita.

“The good news is that we didn’t have any damage to our mechanical, electrical, telecommunications or computing systems, which stands in stark contrast to what happened after Tropical Storm Allison,” Irvin said in the news release. “None of the buildings that are serviced by UH’s central utility plant were without power, but power outages occurred in buildings south of Wheeler Street that are fed by CenterPoint Energy.”

A mandatory evacuation was not required of students living on campus. Those students who stayed on campus still had access to power and Internet, according to The Daily Cougar reports in 2008. While water did flood the basements of some buildings and leak into the rooms of some residents, most who were interviewed never felt they were in danger.

“Most people left — it made me worried at first,” said Ami Casis, an optometry graduate student living in Moody Towers at the time. “But after the storm, a lot of my friends called and said they lost power. I had everything I needed.”

In the wake of Hurricane Ike, the University continues efforts to ensure that students are safe and prepared in the face of any emergency.

“We actually rewrote and passed and amended the Emergency Management Plan that was signed and approved by the President,” said Director of Emergency Management Joe Mendez. “And it took (many) departments to collaborate into that. And that engagement includes the evacuation plan, the emergency management plan, the pandemic and flu plan, and the large venue and sporting events plan.

“These plans create a set of guidelines for each department to follow during an emergency, and the Emergency Management Bureau ensures that each of these plans are maintained,” Mendez said.

The Emergency Management Bureau also regulates the campus alert system and has increased outreach programs to educate students and the general public about hurricane preparedness.

In addition, hurricanes are often tracked weeks in advance, which gives the Bureau time to plan accordingly, Mendez said.

“If we have a hurricane, we have plenty of time to make notices if we need to evacuate,” Mendez said. “The city of Houston and Harris County already have ZIP maps. If any of the local governments makes a declaration that we need to evacuate, the president of the University will follow that and say, ‘The city just made a declaration for evacuation. Where are we in that map?'”

Mendez said that evacuations are usually progressive and that students should pay attention to notices during hurricane season, as the Emergency Management Bureau will send weather notices to students via email and text message. Students also have access to ZIP code maps, a hurricane checklist and a preparation instructional video at uh.edu/emergency.

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