Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Goodbye, Dolly

KINGSVILLE - July 21, 2008

Contact: Jill Scoggins
jill.scoggins@tamuk.edu or 361-593-2146

By Jill Scoggins
Director of Public Relations

Monday, July 21st, started out normally enough: I had the usual too-many-things-on-it to-do list for the week.

That changed when I saw the e-mail from Crisis Management Team co-chair David Standish to convene the CMT to discuss what was then a tropical storm.

The to-do list was immediately revised to contain just one word: Dolly.

She became my new BFFTW (best friend for the week). While I was annoyed that I had to put all my other projects aside, if I am the honest person I try to be, I have to say:

I got a slight rush.

You see, PR professionals – like reporters, weather broadcasters, paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police officers and anyone else who is called a “crisis responder” – can immediately kick into emergency mode.

I’ve often wondered if this characteristic stems from nature or nurture: Are we natural adrenaline junkies who sub- or unconsciously select careers that accommodate our need for the rush? Or do we get the rush simply because we develop the ability to quickly shift into emergency gear through training and working under deadline pressure? Are we the chicken or the egg, and which one comes first?

I’m not smart enough to figure it out – besides, I don’t have the time. Whatever the reason, it happens.

That first CMT meeting was co-directed by Dave and co-chair, Dr. Terisa Remelius. Terisa and Dave are top-notch co-captains. They immediately began putting the university’s Crisis Management Plan into action. It is a thorough plan with general crisis planning information and entire sections devoted to specific crises: tornados, fires, bomb threats, hazmat incidents and others.

Section 12, one of the longest, covers hurricanes. At the July 21st meeting, we went down the plan, point-by-point: current storm position, its expected path, each department’s responsibilities, when decisions about class cancellations and campus closures would be made, how we would find out from the city and county if an evacuation order was issued, how and where students would be evacuated if needed, who would be deemed critical personnel to remain on-site if we closed the campus, how our information systems backup procedures are handled, how would people be notified, on and on ... up to post-storm plans for re-opening the campus.

At the end of the meeting, each of us was clear about our individual roles and assignments. And then we executed them. As the week progressed, we adjusted when necessary. For example, on Tuesday we learned that Texas Task Force 1 selected our campus as its staging/host site. Texas Task Force 1 is sponsored by the Texas Engineering Extension Service, an agency of The Texas A&M University System. Approximately 200 Texas Task Force 1 emergency responders used Turner-Bishop Halls and their adjacent parking lots beginning July 22nd as a base of operations. Texas Task Force 1 represents over 60 jurisdictions and agencies from across the state of Texas and is one of 28 teams in the national urban search and rescue system under FEMA.

Just as the different departments across the university worked together to keep our students, faculty and staff safe and informed, Texas A&M-Kingsville worked with Texas Task Force 1, Texas Engineering Extension Service, the A&M System and myriad of responding agencies utilizing our campus to keep the entire region safe and informed.

There were several other meetings that week, some with the full CMT and others with subsets of the team addressing specific tasks. But the basics of what was needed were established clearly at that first meeting.

There were hiccups along the way, of course. Sending out the campus closure/class cancellation notice was delayed a few minutes because I fumbled with the technology – but Terisa got it to go through. Dave was not notified of one of our subset meetings, and he should have been because we needed his valuable input.

I also was questioned about the duplication of messages – Terisa sent out the message to recall staff to campus on Friday through the ConnectED emergency notification system and I duplicated the message through our e-mail system. The answer is that our notification plans are deliberately redundant to help make sure everyone receives emergency messages. In fact, that recall message wasn’t only distributed through ConnectED and e-mail; I also recorded it on the Employee Recall Hotline and sent it in news release form to all South Texas news media.

I’m sure there were other instances where problems arose – but I’m also just as sure that they were handled expeditiously and thoroughly. As I write this, it has been nine days since the July 21st CMT meeting, and I’m not aware of any issues other than those already described. The CMT will hold a debriefing soon, and I know we’ll find instances where we can improve – we always do, because we always want to do a better job in the next crisis than we did in the previous one.

However, I’m hard pressed at this point to find a way that this campus as a whole could possibly do better next time. I’m proud of how everyone at Texas A&M-Kingsville pulled together.

I was glad to say goodbye to Dolly, of course, but I am equally glad to be able to say my university knew what to do – and how to do it well – when Dolly said hello to us.

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