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The Dartmouth
February 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College group plans for disaster response

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and New Hampshire's October flooding, Dartmouth's Emergency Management Committee is preparing for future natural disasters that may affect the College.

Sheila Culbert, senior assistant to the president, chairs the committee, which brings together organizations from across campus.

"Many different people around the campus have responsibility for one aspect of the plan or another," Culbert said.

The Emergency Management Group, which includes Provost Barry Scherr, Dean of the College James Larimore and officials from Safety and Security and Dick's House, meets once a month to discuss current or impending disasters that may adversely affect the campus community.

"Plans are only as useful as their ability to be flexible," Dr. Michael Blayney, the College's director of Environmental Health and Safety, said.

Blayney, who works with the Dartmouth community and local towns to alleviate the impact of natural disasters, cited the first 72 hours after a disaster as an essential time that shapes the recovery process. In the event of a monumental emergency, the EMG, with the assistance of the Red Cross and governmental agencies, will evacuate students and furnish them with essential supplies.

Environmental Health and Safety relies on the incident command principle, a popular emergency planning method through which EHS assigns varied responsibilities to College officials on all levels.

Parkhurst's staff is influential in crucial crisis management. Dartmouth's fundamental emergency plans and procedures are created by the College's Emergency Policy Group, chaired by College President James Wright. As a result of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of several New Hampshire areas, emergency procedures are currently being reviewed.

"I'm not aware of any specific changes in procedures and plans but do know that we are moving forward with plans to improve our emergency communications capabilities," Larimore said.

Notifying students, families and faculty is an important action during an emergency, Larimore said. Chosen communication methods depend greatly on the resources and individuals available. Campus leaders, organizations and publications could all be used to extend information.

Larimore also said student involvement in distributing cots, blankets and food to those who may be ill or injured is essential to ensuring campus safety.

Dartmouth's location is less likely to encounter severe natural disasters that colleges on the West Coast might potentially experience, such as earthquakes. But the College often faces heavy rain and wind during the fall and winter months.

Tulane University's response to Hurricane Katrina is an example of a proper institutional reaction to a natural disaster, Blayney said.

Several universities in the Washington, D.C., region have also begun to adapt new emergency policies. George Washington University has compiled a manual to address the school's plans during a natural disaster. Georgetown University has also begun to conduct new research to construct an updated emergency preparedness plan.

The recovery stage after a natural disaster is a topic that is often overlooked, Blayney said. Any damage to dormitories, offices and classrooms would require reconstruction and the institutional development of temporary facilities in order for instruction to continue. Students would also have to be moved to dorms unaffected by damage.

The Emergency Planning Committee is committed to addressing any problems students may have during a natural disaster by utilizing undergraduate advisers, staff members and local residents. By procuring supplies such as textbooks, computers and notebooks, students would be able to continue their education as soon as possible.

"We need to be able to respond at different levels," Blayney said.