Colleges revamp plans for emergencies

Colleges across the nation are quickly revamping security plans for natural disaster emergencies following the closings of several universities in the Gulf Coast area prompted by Hurricane Katrina.

While many schools have detailed plans for terrorist attacks and man-made disasters, the recent hurricane season has forced university officials to reevaluate plans for natural disasters.

D.C. area schools, which have detailed plans for various crises procedures, have moved to heighten awareness.

George Washington University’s detailed “Incident, Response and Recovery Manual” does not yet include specifics on plans for natural disasters crises, but the office plans to formulate a response procedure.

Nearby Georgetown University also has plans to “initiate an effort to update and enhance the existing Emergency Preparedness Plan through training and research,” vice president of university safety David Morrell said in a statement.

Both George Washington University and Georgetown University provided academic assistance to students from various Gulf Coast schools when the universities closed including Tulane University, Loyola University, and Louisiana State University.

In a recent report, FEMA suggested that universities form offices to oversee public safety, environmental health and risk management issues to help prevent possible disasters.

The University of Maryland has already taken important steps to making its campus and students safer from natural disasters. The university is one of 10 in the nation considered “storm-ready” by the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The federal “StormReady” program aims to encourage campuses to prepare for weather emergencies.

“Safety is a top priority for the campus,” University of Maryland President C.D. Mote said in a statement. “We can’t prevent storms, but we can reduce the chances that people might be injured by them.”

The university has established an early warning siren system, an emergency operations center and a 24-hour emergency communications center, and it has asked staff and campus police to take part in “storm-spotter” training.

Federal officials have asked residents in New England and the southeast to track Hurricane Wilma as it progresses up the Atlantic coast.

“Preparations should be made now . we urge the public to take this storm seriously and to listen to state and local authorities for instructions,” acting FEMA director R. David Paulison said in a press release.

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