Thursday, April 7, 2011

Five Years After the Tornado...What has Changed?

Does this look familiar? It's folks taking cover in the Humanities breakroom for the tornado warning on Monday. That event really hit home for many people on campus. This week marks the five year anniversary of the 2006 tornado outbreak in Middle Tennessee. Vol State was hit hard with $9 million in damage. As incredible as the damage was, what still stands out are the heroic efforts by the Vol State Building Coordinators that protected so many lives. Lisa Lynch has been the supervisor at the campus police dispatch center for eleven years.

“Prior to Dr. Nichols' arrival, people were not aware of the emergency management plan we had in place at the college," she said. "Once in his position he reviewed it and tweaked it and told us to let everybody know about it. His arrival really added gravity to the implementation of the plan. Prior to the tornado we had a few building coordinators in each building, but now we have 60 plus in place and 97 percent of those have completed Certified Emergency Response Training program."

“People need to take the emergency coordinators serious," said Lynch. "Whether it is a fire alarm, gas alarm, or a tornado warning, our office is responsible for directing these efforts. Even Dr. Nichols takes direction from the coordinators. When they say 'go in here,' he obeys and he follows that direction,because he knows they have been trained and are receiving first-hand information. Our number one responsibility is to communicate what we need to have happen, to save lives.”

Associate Professor Nancy Blomgren found shelter with some colleagues under desks. “Who ever heard of a tornado hitting a college? I was glad that these structures were in place to make sure things happened as they should. I was willing to be herded along because I could tell that these people were doing what they were trained to do.” Initially, Blomgren could not find her car. A few days later it turned up in a lot across the street, only identifiable by the VIN.

Fran Henslee started working in Vol State's, Disabilities office the week of the tornado. “We had a tutoring lab up on the third floor in the Wood building,” she said. “We received advanced notice because sometimes our students have wheelchairs or carry oxygen, and they might have a difficult time evacuating. We had two building coordinators, and they swept the whole building to make sure everyone was safe.”

She did not mind Monday’s safety measures at all.  “We all felt good about going into the designated room on Monday because we knew it was for safety purposes," she said.  "We had a lot of students crammed in there. I think a lot of times people get upset in a crisis situation because they don’t know what to do, or where to go. Our coordinators helped by being calm and firm. They even prevented some of the students from going outside. They did an excellent job keeping everyone calm and organized.”

No one is ever fully equipped to deal with this kind of tragedy, but Vol State has worked hard to take its preparedness to the next level. Five years ago Holly Nimmo was a Building Coordinator and she played an important role in keeping people safe. “We now have stations providing flashlights, glow sticks and other emergency items in case of an emergency.” She also mentioned other improvements such as better training, adding more outdoor speakers, and an improved intercom and telephone system to broadcast updates.

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