Area Colleges Prepared For Dangerous Weather

Wednesday, February 6th 2008, 10:45 pm
By: News On 6

Early warnings and repeated safety drills are being credited with saving the lives of college students.  Their Tennessee campus took a direct hit from a tornado.  There is only one building on the Union University campus that doesn't have some type of damage caused by the tornado.  More than 50 students were taken to hospitals with injuries, but all of the students survived.

News On 6 anchor Craig Day reports area colleges also have plans in place to keep students safe.

As a tornado raced toward the Union University campus, students scrambled to dormitory bathrooms.  Buildings all around them were reduced to rubble.  Despite the severe damage, no students were killed.

"Me and my roommates and the girls from upstairs all eight of us went in our bathrooms and put a mattress over our heads," said Union University student Abby McBroom.

The president of the small private college, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, says planning, drills and broadcast warnings helped to save lives.

Severe weather readiness is important on area campuses.

At TU, 250 loudspeakers have been installed, both inside and outside buildings to alert students about emergencies including threatening severe weather.

Also on the TU Campus, each building has a weather radio and there are designated safe zones for students to go to if severe weather strikes.  Also TU has the ability to use a new automated system to send out text messages to students to alert them about severe weather.

It's similar to a system used at Rogers State University in Claremore.

The University says it will use the voice mail, text messages and email to alert students about weather.

"Literally in less than a minute, they should be notified of any campus emergency including a tornado," said Brent Ortolani, Rogers State University.

Rogers State also holds drills each semester for the 300 students who live in campus apartments.

"All the new residents in the apartments have been through the drill, so they should know what to do in the event of severe weather and the resident assistants, would gather all of them and take them down to those safe rooms," said Ortolani.

Leaders at both schools hope the precautions are never needed, but realize there is always a possibility that they could be.

Many campus police departments have communications equipment that links them to emergency management agencies.  That gives them access to information provided by storm spotters.

Of course, colleges and universities also monitor broadcast weather reports to get the latest information.