Clark: Expecting the unexpected

Lawrence S "Larry" Clark Phone

On Tuesday, April 12, Northwest Louisiana was hit by multiple tornadoes. While the impact to the region was not as severe as it could have been, many homes, neighborhoods, and institutions suffered damage ranging from moderate to critical. LSU Shreveport suffered damage when a confirmed EF0 tornado cut a path through the southern side of campus during the late hours of the evening.

As any business or organizational leader will tell you, you can prepare as much as possible for emergencies and catastrophic events, but the true measure of your disaster preparedness lies in the responsiveness and cohesion of your team when something unexpected occurs. Shortly after the tornado had passed, our Facility Services team (led by Interim Director Justin Baker) and Campus Police (led by Chief Donald Wray) were on campus, surveying the damage and initiating repair and clean up, which included the removal or branches from Kings Highway, a major thoroughfare to the east of our campus, even at that hour. They were in communication with my leadership team, updating us throughout the discovery phase of the effort, which uncovered power loss, damage to structures and facilities, HVAC issues, downed trees, and debris.

By the middle of the next morning, we had determined that we had lost 14 trees, suffered minor damage to the Physical Plant, baseball facility, Red River Radio building and severe damage to the tennis court complex. Fortunately, there was not significant damage to any of the major buildings on campus, and the impact was confined primarily to the southern and eastern part of the campus. I made the decision to close the campus that day to minimize the safety hazards to our students, faculty, staff during the recovery effort. We were in constant communication with each other, and we received immediate support from SWEPCO, Miller Tree Service, Tree Health Lady, Camus Electric, and Mechanical Concepts. 

Because of the combined efforts of these teams, along with the boots-on-the-ground guidance of our campus leadership, we were able to remove major debris, reopen the ring road around campus, and address the power and HVAC issues sufficiently to reopen campus on Thursday, April 14th. While the damage we suffered could have been much worse, I feel it is important that I recognize the efforts of the amazing team at LSUS for getting us back on track as quickly as I could have hoped for. Our full recovery will take some time, but as ever we forge ahead in our mission to educate, engage, and innovate. 

In light of this, I urge you to ask yourselves the following questions. How prepared are you for the unexpected? Have you established an internal system of conditional decision trees to address potential problems?  Have you empowered your leadership team to respond appropriately to difficult challenges as they arise? Does each person in that group understand their role in the chain of command? Do you know who your go-to external organizations are in case of an emergency? Have you established protocols for engaging with them in a timely manner when you need them? These are not easy questions to answer, since the unpredictability of some organizational threats are simply too nebulous to quantify before they occur, but I contend that it’s worth talking through hypothetical scenarios with your leadership teams to identify and establish a baseline of best practices that can facilitate flexibility in the face of the unknown. As always, I wish you well in these and other endeavors. 

Larry Clark is chancellor of LSU Shreveport

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