(L - R) Shreveport MIC Armando Garza, Police Chief Eric Plummer, University President Dr. David Ranking and Shreveport Warning Coordination Meteorologist Keith Stellman (Photo: WFO Shreveport)
(Aug. 17, 2011) - Home to more than 3,300 students and faculty, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia has become the State's first StormReady University.
"Thanks to the work of University Police Chief and Emergency Manager Eric Plummer, Southern Arkansas University can tout a weather readiness program that is second to none," said Armando Garza, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service forecast office in Shreveport, La.
Garza presented university officials with a recognition letter and special StormReady signs during a ceremony on campus June 29.
The University relies on a multitude of methods to communicate with its faculty and students ranging from older technologies to the latest social media. On the 200 foot bell tower in the middle of campus sits the only known voice activated tornado siren in the area. It has the ability to transmit weather warnings or be overridden by a customized voice with specific instructions. Earlier this year a train carrying hazardous material derailed and the siren was used to instruct students and faculty to evacuate to an athletic center.
The university also invested in campus-wide text messaging capabilities and a software package that allows the campus police to display an emergency message on every computer in the campus network. They also have the ability to communicate directly with the National Weather Service via the state owned and operated 800 MHz radio system. One of the newer technologies is a Twitter feed which allows all students with Twitter accounts to access updated weather information.
In addition to its communication capabilities, the university designated a safe area for each building on campus as part of its Emergency Operating Plan. And each building has a captain who is responsible for the safety of its students and faculty.
"StormReady encourages communities to take a proactive approach to improving local hazardous weather operations and public awareness in partnership with their local National Weather Service office," said Garza. "On two separate occasions this past spring, the university went into lock down for tornado warnings and utilized all of its new capabilities without any problems."
The nationwide community preparedness program uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle local severe weather and flooding threats. The program is voluntary and provides communities with clear-cut advice from the local National Weather Service forecast office and state and local emergency managers. The program began in 1999 with seven communities in the Tulsa, Okla. area. Today, there are more nearly 1,800 StormReady communities.
The StormReady program is part of NOAA National Weather Service's working partnership with the International Association of Emergency Managers and the National emergency Management Association. The StormReady recognition will expire in three years, after which the university will go through a renewal process.