Nicholls commended for storm efforts

THIBODAUX – Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, that battered the Louisiana coast less than two weeks apart, tested the resources of Nicholls State University. The institution prevailed, however – emerging with increased confidence in its emergency response measures and community support procedures.

Details regarding the steps taken by Nicholls, as well as storm-related damages, are as follows:

• Emergency Planning Committee co-chairs Mike Davis, assistant vice president for administration, and Mike Naquin, controller and assistant vice president for finance, teamed with Brian Clausen, director of environmental health and safety, in monitoring both storms for several days before they entered the Gulf of Mexico.

• When it became clear that the storms were threatening Nicholls, the full Emergency Planning Committee met to decide on appropriate action, based on the position, strength and probable course of the storms. Ultimately the committee decided to close the campus – and in the case of Gustav, to evacuate students to Louisiana Tech University.

• Dr. Rebecca Pennington, assistant vice president of university relations and development, and Renee Piper, director of university relations, provided up-to-date, accurate information to Nicholls constituents by utilizing the following tools:

1. Nicholls Web site home page – A special emergency alert section was added to the top of the Nicholls home page, and emergency messages were posted on a daily basis.

2. Nicholls emergency preparedness Web site – In addition to the Nicholls home page, emergency information was posted to the Nicholls emergency preparedness Web site. This portal was designed to remain live even if the Nicholls server failed.

3. GOHSEP-JIC and ULS – Piper and Pennington worked with officials from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness’ Joint Information Center as well as officials from the University of Louisiana System to disseminate emergency messages statewide.

4. Press Releases – Emergency information was distributed to 768 media contacts across the state.

5. Text Messaging – Alerts were sent to students, faculty and staff, notifying them of campus closures and openings.

6. E-mail – Alerts were sent to all student and employee campus e-mail accounts.

7. BlackBoard – Emergency messages were posted.

8. Telephone hotlines – Alerts were recorded on key campus phone lines:

o Alert hotlines – 1-877-NICHOLLS; (985) 448-4636; and (866) 709-8927.

o Admissions hotlines – (985) 449-7169 and (985) 448-4507.

• Although Betsy Cheramie Ayo Hall has served for several years as the location of the Special Needs Shelter, the strength and probable course of Gustav prompted the Department of Health and Hospitals not to open the shelter. Nicholls does not generally operate shelters for the broader community. Other state agencies have the authority to operate such shelters as directed by the governor and the Office of Homeland Security.

• Employees of Sodexo, the university’s contracted food service company, were on hand at the university beginning Wednesday, Sept. 3, to provide meals and ice to Nicholls maintenance staff, university police, housing personnel, grounds staff and other essential employees and officials. Sodexo also donated a total of 1,500 meals to the Thibodaux Family Church between Sunday, Sept. 7, and Wednesday, Sept. 10. These meals were served to families with power outages, damaged homes or otherwise limited financial resources.

• After Hurricane Katrina, Nicholls entered into other agreements with various state and parish governmental entities – agreements which remained in effect for Gustav and Ike. As a result of these, the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government stored vehicles and heavy equipment on campus to protect them from high water, and the Louisiana State Police operated its headquarters from the Century Room at John L. Guidry Stadium.

• Post-Gustav, Nicholls immediately agreed to new requests from various first responders. Betsy Cheramie Ayo Hall was designated as temporary housing for Troop C of the Louisiana State Police – accommodating a minimum of 40 state troopers at any given time. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was granted the use of parking lots at Guidry Stadium as a staging area for more than 50 vehicles and boats. The U.S. Coast Guard was cleared to store and protect two boats on campus, with several coast guard personnel receiving on-campus food and lodging. Also, Nicholls granted a request by the City of Houma to establish a kitchen for the public in the T. L. “Teddy” Duhé Building, which also served as housing for food service workers.

• The main campus sustained approximately $3.5 million in damages, $1 million of which were inflicted upon the lights at Guidry Stadium. Additional structural damage to athletic facilities included the complete destruction of the softball outfield fence and scoreboard as well as the loss of about three-fifths of the baseball outfield fence. Approximately 35 other buildings on the main campus suffered varying degrees of roof damage, but overall the structural damage was minimal.

• The Nicholls Farm, located on Thoroughbred Park Drive in Thibodaux; the Duhé Building in Houma; and the Sculpture Garden and Folk Art Studio in Chauvin survived Gustav with minor damage – but after Ike, the latter flooded. Recovery personnel are currently assessing the damage, which may only involve the cleaning of sculptures on the site.

• Nicholls was able to reopen within one week of Gustav’s landfall and continued to serve as a staging area for personnel engaged in storm recovery. University staff, assisted by personnel from McNeese State University and Northwestern State University, were able to clear and secure the campus for the timely reopening.

Officials of both Nicholls and the University of Louisiana System recently commended the university’s efforts. In a letter to Dr. Stephen T. Hulbert, university president, Dr. Randy Moffett, president of the University of Louisiana System, praised Nicholls for going “above and beyond the call of duty with a spirit of collaboration and selflessness.”

Hulbert shared the letter in an open e-mail to the university community, concurring with Moffett: “Clearly, the hard work and dedication of staff did much to protect the university, ensure the safety and support of students and staff and respond to the needs of the broader community.”