New Focus On Hurricane Preparedness

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New Focus On Hurricane Preparedness

A screenshot of the Instagram page which sparked controversy last February

A screenshot of the Instagram page which sparked controversy last February

A screenshot of the Instagram page which sparked controversy last February

A screenshot of the Instagram page which sparked controversy last February

Jackson Prebe, Staff Writer

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Normally, hurricane season is not much of a concern for Averett and inland Virginia. However, last year’s hurricane Michael brought to light the consequences of underestimating the destructive power of these storms. Averett experienced unprecedented rains and strong winds, downing trees and flooding areas on and near campus. Power was out for multiple days leaving many students in the dark, without hot showers and food.

While Averett’s administration did their best to control the damage and keep students safe, a lack of preparation and the sheer force of nature combined to create what many would call, “a mess.” A mess that was not received kindly by much of Averett’s student body, and would eventually lead to the infamous Instagram account, which began posting daily updates on water damage, leaky rooms, and overall substandard living conditions on Averett’s Main campus last February, featured in this Chanticleer article

This year however, Lesley Villarose, Averett’s dean of students, ensures that the storm was a learning experience for the administration, and they are not entering the Fall 2019 semester unprepared.

“We obviously learned a lot from tropical storm Michael, and we have updated our emergency response plan for the university that covers a wide variety of emergencies.”

In addition, the administration also has big plans for National Preparedness month, which kicked off on September 1st. There will be “a number of campus activities” enabling students to be more prepared for various emergency situations which could occur on campus, including “emergency procedure presentations” detailing the best course of action in certain scenarios, including an active shooter. Also, students will be able to participate in “Emergency Preparedness Bingo,” where students will be educated on emergency preparedness and asked questions such as “Do you have a flashlight in your room?” and other necessities in the event of an emergency.

Educating students is not all that is coming, though, as Villarose says the administration has learned a number of things to do differently themselves in the event of an emergency.

“Communication. Making sure we’re communicating properly. One of the biggest takeaways for me was making sure that we have relationships with people in the local government.”

According to Villarose, this could have avoided much of the disorganization Averett experienced during and after the hurricane.

“One of the reasons we continued to stay open was because we were not getting timely reports about the power, and we have improved those relationships which allows for us to get real time updates.”

Also, Villarose added that students should utilize the resources already available, such as the Livesafe app and the school’s maintenance request system, and be on the lookout for any additional ways to express concerns  that may come about throughout the year.

These efforts being made by Villarose and the rest of the administration seem to be right in line with concerns students may have going into this hurricane season. Reilly Cooper, a junior theater education major from Fredericksburg, recalls the chaos of last year.

“[Florence] was considered a threat to us, so we packed up the car and went home for the weekend. Nothing happened, but when hurricane Michael came through, I had no idea that a hurricane was even coming. Next thing you know, I’m in a class and it starts raining, and then it starts raining very heavily, and the power goes out.”

Without the knowledge of the storm, the theater department still had rehearsals scheduled that afternoon for their production of Caesar and Cleo.

“We all went down to the theater, a building that has a bunch of glass around it, but it was kinda fun, we got to watch the storm.” Cooper said. “Then at some point I got a text through Livesafe that basically said ‘If your car is in the Frith lot, there’s a pretty good chance it’s underwater right now.’ And I had to book it out there. I was very lucky to get my car out.”

Cooper does, however, feel that “Lesley Villarose has been very proactive” in preparing the student body for potential emergencies, including hurricanes. “I think she does her job very well in keeping the students informed and giving them opportunities.”

Additionally, he feels confident in the impact informed students can have on others during an emergency situation, with the information provided by the activities of National Preparedness month.

“If you have one person who knows what to do, they can lead hundreds to safety or help out in a tremendous way,” Cooper added. “I think if one student per every hundred were in that room at some point, they would have information that, in a terrible situation, could aid somebody in need.”

Libby Rodriguez, a senior musical theater major in her final semester at Averett, and native of Gainesville, Florida, has her “fair share of hurricanes” behind her, and sees the issues Averett and the Danville area have with these storms.

“Florida is made for a lot of these hurricanes. They have smaller trees, lots of flat land. Here you have really big, old trees, and they are a lot more destructive. Also, the hilly terrain causes more issues with flooding, which explains why the Frith lot was practically underwater.”

Like Cooper, she believes one of the biggest problems faced last year was a lack of information and preparation.

“It took us all by surprise.”

Most importantly, she feels educating the student body on how to respond in an emergency situation, including long term power outages, is critical.

“How to take care of yourself, what to avoid doing, things like that,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone was using their cars to charge their phones, but if you turn on the car without the engine running to charge your phone, it dies quicker. But a lot of students didn’t know that.”

As we enter the heart of hurricane season it’s important to be ready.  While hurricane Michael may have gotten the better of Averett last Fall, a prepared administration and an educated student body can ensure we never have to endure another.

Junior, Theater Education Major, from Fredericksburg, Virginia

Senior, Musical Theater major, from Gainesville, Florida