Managing Volunteers During Campus Emergencies

Here’s how Tennessee State University was able to rally volunteers to help with clean up after an EF3 tornado struck campus.

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At the beginning of March 2020, while the rest of the world was grappling with the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee State University was dealt another serious blow. An EF3 tornado tore through the area and hit Tennessee State’s campus directly. It’s estimated the twister cost the university more than $20 million.

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So, in addition to having to address the pandemic, Tennessee State University Director of Emergency Management Thomas Graham, who is also one of this year’s Campus Safety Director of the Year finalists, had to deal with the aftermath of this severe tornado strike.

But Thomas was up to the challenge. He, his team and other campus administrators were ready when the tornado struck.

“Being in Nashville, we knew that one of our top threats was severe weather, and we tried to plan accordingly,” says Thomas. “We made several preparations, including becoming a storm-ready institution through the National Weather Service.”

After the storm had passed, he quickly organized a team of colleagues and more than 400 volunteers to assist with the cleanup.

“The great thing about our institution is that we often call on volunteers from alums, students, and faculty and staff members to participate in a lot of our events,” Thomas says. “We use the same planning design that we use for large events on campus, such as a commencement or football game. Our alums are very engaged, and once news broke that we had been hit, they were ready to jump at the effort to aid the institution in recovery.”

In my interview, Thomas describes his and Tennessee State’s experience before, during and after this ordeal. He also provides valuable insight on organizing volunteers and donations.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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