Administration News

Emergency Management fights disaster with preparedness

Kelly Boysen, the director of Emergency Management, said the job of her department is to provide information to University administration, and connect members of the UH community to helpful resources. | Courtesy of UH Media Relations

When disaster strikes, the Office of Emergency Management at UH believes personal preparedness is the best way students, faculty and staff can set themselves up to weather the storm and recover.

They encourage members of the community to take personal responsibility for their preparedness, in addition to standing by for University communications, in the case of an on-campus emergency.

Director of Emergency Management Kelly Boysen said the best way to be ready for any kind of incident is to have basic supplies on hand, maintain a personal evacuation plan and stay informed.

“Taking personal responsibility for your preparedness is something that’s really important,” Boysen said. “Doing a few things in advance is going to put you in a way better position to respond, should something happen.”

The University’s Emergency Operations Center was activated from Aug. 25 through Friday for Hurricane Harvey, Boysen said.

“I’m grateful to say that the EOC operations during Harvey were a great success as our top priority and objective was met: maintaining the safety of our students,” Boysen said. “This success is a result of the many talented and dedicated individuals who remained on campus during the storm.”

Personal preparedness

Maintaining safety during a natural disaster is partly accomplished by keeping students updated through University communications. Boysen said students should maintain up-to-date contact information in MyUH to ensure they receive UH Alerts, such as those sent out regarding campus conditions during Harvey.

“If the campus leadership makes any decision to cancel classes or close the campus, that’s going to be communicated out through the University’s emergency notification system,” Boysen said. “That’s why we stress so strongly that students have updated their contact information in MyUH, to make sure they get those critical messages.”

Students should aim to keep basic supplies in their residence, whether on or off campus, Boysen said. Necessities to keep on hand include water, a flashlight, prescription medication and cash. Aside from these, Boysen said individuals should avoid putting themselves in situations which could hinder their safety if a disaster were to occur.

“If you commute to campus,” Boysen said, “don’t let that gas tank be below half full.”

The Office of Emergency Management has offered Community Emergency Response Team training since fall 2011, Boysen said. The free eight week course — the next one beginning Sept. 15 — teaches students how to best help emergency responders save life and property.

Evacuation plans

Residential students are encouraged to created a personalized evacuation plan, which should include a predetermined evacuation site and how they would get to that location, Boysen said.

“The Student Housing and Residential Life department has a comprehensive list in place for a ‘Planned Evacuation,’” said Don Yackley, executive director of SHRL. “As part of that plan, there is a ‘point person’ assigned to each residence hall who implements the plan by delegating responsibilities to other staff and organizing the evacuation. All residents are summoned into a central area, and then transported via buses to a safe location.”

The housing department maintains a list of special needs students, Yackley said, and a staff member in each residence hall is assigned to attend to anyone needing assistance in the event of a planned evacuation.

Students, faculty and staff who live off campus are encouraged to find out whether they reside in an evacuation zone, Boysen said. For example, she said, the University of Houston does not fall into an evacuation zone, but the Energy Research Park, just under 2 miles down I-45, does.

Hurricane season

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted above normal activity during this year’s hurricane season in May, three months before Harvey.

Boysen, who was a meteorologist prior to entering the field of emergency management, said August and September are considered the peak months for hurricane formation due to warm temperatures in the Atlantic.

Bernhard Rappenglueck, a UH professor of meteorology, said many of the tropical storms which might make up a more-active-than-usual hurricane season should remain over open seas.

“However, just one disastrous hurricane like Harvey hitting a populated area for a couple of days is catastrophic, regardless how active the hurricane season is,” Rappenglueck said.

Hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30, generally satisfies two important prerequisites for hurricane formation, Rappenglueck said. One is water surface temperatures of at least 81 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other is warm air.

Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico currently range between 84 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.

“In terms of rainfall, the most disastrous tropical storms are those which are pretty slow or which stall,” Rappenglueck said. “Then, even storms of lower categories, like Allison in 2001 and now Harvey, can become catastrophic.”

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