I had the lucky timing to be in Massachusetts when Sandy hit New Jersey. I came to Brookdale in 2015, a couple of years after Sandy, and found that people here were still dealing with the aftermath. Some employees had lost their homes in the storm. Some families moved away. If you use the term “Post-Sandy” in a sentence, nobody has to ask what you mean. Years later, it’s still a sensitive topic.
I mention that as context for saying that the impact of Harvey will linger long after the water is gone. And as a suggestion that we think hard about contingency plans, because these horrific disasters are coming more frequently, and with more force, than they used to.
From a community college perspective, a few thoughts.
Obviously, some colleges will function as shelters, and will become de facto community centers for emergency food distribution. When we had the October ice storm a few years ago at Holyoke and people lost power for anywhere from a few days to over a week, the locker room at the college gym was the only access that some employees had to hot showers. It sounds like a small thing, but it isn’t. I’d encourage any colleges in the area to loosen up on restrictions to the showers.
Many community college students are living economically precarious existences in the best of times. Obviously, we need to do what we can to tend to immediate material needs. But there’s a longer term issue, too. When something like this strikes, we need to make a point of reaching out to the Federal Department of Education, as well as the relevant state agencies, to ensure that students on financial aid don’t get penalized for technical violations of rules that they could not possibly have followed, given the circumstances. The same could apply to colleges themselves. It’s late August; the Fall semester has either just started or is just about to. Losing even a week to recovery could wreak financial havoc. I don’t know if Texas does performance-based funding, but if it does, we should prevail upon it to suspend any cuts for several years. That’s how long it will take to undo the damage.
Shared services will matter for a long time, too. That means taking in students, but it also means providing help to colleges whose capacity for various routine functions may be compromised for a while. When systems are down or key employees are either absent or so shaken as to be badly off their game, it’s easy for deadlines to pass, mistakes to be made, and people to be hurt. It will likely take years to sort everything out, but the more that other colleges and professionals can help, the less bad it will be. To the extent that we as a sector can offer help with getting systems back online, we should.
As awful as it is, this is also a valuable learning experience for colleges across the country. As large bodies of water get warmer, storms become more severe. Harvey is extraordinary, but it won’t be the last of its kind. I know this isn’t at the top of anyone’s list, but to the extent that folks can document their recovery steps, we can learn from them. As disasters become more frequent, disaster recovery matters more.
Finally, and I owe a debt to the folks who presented on the aftermath of the Umpqua killings, it’s important to realize that just because people are physically capable of returning to work, it doesn’t follow that they’re at their best. Again, this may be where colleges sharing staff and administrators, at least for a while, can help. The urge to return to normalcy can blind us to people’s quiet suffering. Acknowledging that pain, and accepting help, can make it easier to be patient with frayed nerves while still getting work done.
In terms of donations, this piece from Medium seems like a good place to start. There’s no shortage of ways to help.
On a personal level, I have friends at Lee College and Brazosport College, both just outside of Houston. I know they’re in for a rough ride for a while. Christy and Lynda, if there’s anything I can do, you know where to find me. You know where to find all of us.