While its campus was closed July 23-25 during Hurricane Dolly's march across the Rio Grande Valley, The University of Texas-Pan American opened its doors Thursday, July 24 to assist the Texas Air National Guard and H-E-B associates who came to aid South Texas communities and residents in the aftermath of the storm.
According to Dr. Richard Costello, director of Environmental Health and Safety at UTPA and a key member of its Crisis Management Team, the University provided housing in the UTPA Fieldhouse for approximately 200 members of the Texas Air National Guard who arrived to provide help in supplying water and food to victims as well as assistance in engineering and regaining electrical services. The UTPA Office of Auxiliary Services and Sodexho, the University's food service provider, also fed the guardsmen during their five-day stay on campus.
In addition, close to 75 H-E-B employees from around the state who volunteered to help distribute food, water and ice to those without electricity or drinking water, were housed in two of UTPA's residence facilities.
Costello said that UTPA currently has agreements with three entities - Texas Department of Public Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of State Health Services - to provide assistance in relief efforts to include housing and possible food service. These agreements are part of the state's official emergency response plans.
"When we were contacted by the Department of State Health Services on Thursday for assistance, our physical plant employees immediately readied the Fieldhouse for the National Guard. While here, guardsmen were also afforded the use of the University's Wellness and Recreation Center as well as the laundry facilities at Unity Hall," Costello said.
As part of UTPA's Hurricane Preparedness Plan, University staff also participated in pre-storm procedures and notification to the University community and media and post-storm damage assessment and remediation. Essential staff members also stayed on campus during its closure to accommodate those in campus housing and to maintain services to UTPA buildings and campus security.
"Our cooling plant employees, for example, were fighting electrical surges to keep the chillers that cool the campus on during the event. Our UTPA Police provided surveillance before and after the storm - the officers and guards were here during the duration," Costello said.
Costello indicated that the Crisis Management Team will meet July 29 to assess their response and make recommendations to be even better prepared for the next storm. However, he regarded the team's response to Hurricane Dolly as an "A+ effort."
"What I thought was most impressive was the fact that none of the team members said 'no' to any of the challenges before and after the storm. This is no doubt a reflection of the charge from UTPA President Blandina Cárdenas, who has made it clear that we act conservatively when dealing with the safety of the UTPA community. She has also made it clear our commitment to the Rio Grande Valley community during relief efforts," Costello said.
In a post-storm letter to UTPA staff and faculty, Cárdenas expressed her gratitude for level of caring and professionalism exhibited by University employees.
"I am especially grateful to our outstanding Physical Plant staff whose meticulous preparation of the campus and their response to the related storm damage was without a doubt responsible for the very low level of disturbance to any of our facilities," she wrote. "Dolly proved that we should never underestimate the potential power of any storm in the Gulf of Mexico."
For more information of UTPA's current hurricane preparedness program, go to www.utpa.edu/hurricane.