Ole Miss having to upgrade emergency plans

OXFORD — Recognizing the importance of preparedness when disasters strike, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency have provided a grant to help the University of Mississippi upgrade its Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan.

The $84,344 grant calls for an evaluation and upgrade of the mitigation plan, which was approved in 2006, because significant changes have occurred since then. DRU committee members are scheduled to meet first, with a series of public hearings on campus and in Oxford to follow.

“The campus has experienced significant structural changes over the past five years,” said Charles Swann, associate director at the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute and DRU project co-investigator. “Campus demolitions and new constructions both increase and decrease our vulnerabilities, requiring a review of our existing plan and our mitigation strategy.”

Chris Mullen, interim chair of the UM Department of Civil Engineering, will examine issues involving the engineering aspects of campus buildings, as well as potential losses from the set of natural hazards listed in the plan. Jeremy Drew, MMRI research associate; and Allison Woolsey, MMRIS GIS analyst, will assist both the MMRI and civil engineering department on technical aspects of the review. Students will also be included, providing a chance for them to get firsthand experience in hazard mitigation work.

A major part of the Disaster Resistant University plan, as mandated by FEMA and MEMA, involves evaluating the effects and frequency of past natural hazards as part of planning for future events.

Natural hazards that threaten the university include earthquakes, floods, lightning, hail, severe winter weather, tornadoes, wildfires and windstorms.

According to UM, it is the first Mississippi institution of higher learning to have a FEMA-approved mitigation plan, Swann said. Since its approval, all the state’s other universities have developed their own mitigation plans, using the Ole Miss DRU experience as a starting point.

“Now that FEMA has again approved the grant for our mitigation plan upgrade, we can begin the process of data collection and the re-evaluation of the campus,” Swann said. “The key is to get people seriously thinking about the possibility of a disaster and staying ready for what could happen. Having an approved mitigation plan also qualifies Ole Miss for all state and federal assistance during and after a natural disaster.”

“The university’s continuing interest and success in mitigation implementation and planning is exemplary,” said Mike Wommack, MEMA director. “Mitigation, as well as emergency response plans, has already been developed by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning.”

The advisory committee, which included representatives from various campus units, the city of Oxford, Lafayette County and the multi-county Tri-Rivers Planning and Development District, will review the DRU plan as it develops, and guide and assist the technical investigations.

“Between 1995 and 1999, MEMA sponsored a mitigation study at the university that focused specifically on the vulnerability of select buildings on campus to earthquakes,” Mullen said. “Later, FEMA launched a nationally competitive grant opportunity program that considered vulnerability of university campuses to all natural hazards, and the university became one of only 31 grant recipients. I’m pleased to continue this important and potentially life-saving work.”

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