Disaster Response Done Right

MSUM Director of Security Michael Parks’ planning and quick thinking before, during and after the massive Red River flood of 2009 helped save the city of Moorhead, Minn. It also earned him this year’s Campus Safety Director of the Year, Education Award.

A Category 4 hurricane; a 7.2 earthquake; an act of terrorism; a mass shooting; an F5 tornado. Although disasters like these don’t happen very often, when they do occur, as a campus safety executive, you and your department must be prepared to respond.

For Minnesota State University, Moorhead (MSUM) Director of Security Michael Parks, his day of reckoning came in the spring of 2009 when Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D., experienced record flooding of the Red River. Initially, forecasters predicted mild to moderate flooding. However, as the weather went from bad to worse, it became apparent that the impending event was going to be historic and potentially devastating. At its peak, the river was more than 20 feet above flood stage. This was his community’s “Big One.”

“If we had lost containment of the Red River, it wouldn’t have just been our campus; it would have been the city,” says MSUM President Edna Szymanski.

Fortunately, MSUM and the surrounding community had Parks, who managed the 20,000 student and community volunteers who filled the sandbags that helped save Moorhead. That task and many others before, during and after the flood are the primary reasons why he was named the 2009 Campus Safety Director of the Year, Education winner.

Relationships, NIMS Compliance Prepare MSUM

The Red River has a history of flooding, so prior to the crisis, Parks was keenly aware that the river would most likely cause trouble at some point during his tenure at MSUM. Because of this, long before the crisis, the director began preparing.

Relationships with other agencies, the city and county, vendors and other colleges proved to be crucial. “We’ve had a tradition of strong partnerships, and we were able to work with them a few years prior to re-establish and strengthen those partnerships,” he says. “When the time came, they knew what resources we had and what our capabilities were.”

National Incident Management System (NIMS) compliance was another important factor both in preparing campus staff for the emergency and enabling the school to recoup expenses from the crisis. Most of the university’s administrators, directors, employees, public safety officers, physical plant staff and environmental health and safety personnel had been trained on NIMS about a year before the flood. An active shooter drill that Parks organized helped campus stakeholders understand how NIMS and emergency preparedness would help during a real emergency. Also, SWAT training on campus helped local law enforcement become familiar with the institution’s physical layout.

Of course, it helped that the school’s president, who joined MSUM about a year before the disaster, was fully supportive of Parks’ emergency preparedness efforts. “I knew enough to seek Mike out immediately upon arriving here and start asking some questions,” Szymanski says. “What I didn’t expect was just how mentally competent he was in not only protecting our campus, but with such an important part of the city and county mobilizations.”

Parks Manages Volunteers, National Guard Housing

Specifically, Parks coordinated the logistics of feeding and transporting approximately 20,000 student and community volunteers safely to and from their sandbag filling destinations in coordination with the city bus services and K-12 school bus services.  He also managed the on-site security and parking for these individuals.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

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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