When a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico, it nearly always impacts Belhaven University because we not only have our main campus in Jackson, Mississippi, but also have adult and graduate campuses in Orlando and Houston. So no matter which way a hurricane turns, it tends to come close to one of our campuses.
We are well prepared for the potential that Isaac could hit Mississippi. Right now it is projected to be a category 2 storm, which is far less severe than Hurricane Katrina seven years ago. Katrina was a category 5 when it hit the coast of Mississippi, and was the only storm in decades that was still at hurricane strength wind when it pushed inland to Jackson.
But since then, we’ve had a comprehensive hurricane plan in place, and for Isaac (and any other storm) we are well prepared:
1. We stockpile thousands of bottles of water for a storm.
2. We have priority contracts for mobile facilities should we lose water service.
3. We have a strong communications – always check our web site for closings and other weather related information.
4. We deal with vulnerable trees long before a storm hits to minimize our risk to damage or power outages.
5. Our food service has access to a good food supply that does not require refrigeration.
This storm is not likely to hit us hard in Jackson, but students are urged to be cautious once winds and rain pick up Tuesday evening and continue all day Wednesday. We could see gusts of 40 mph.
Three important preparations students should be making:
1. Fill your car with gas EARLY this week. One of the most difficult challenges during Katrina recovery was finding fuel. Again, we don’t expect that level of a storm, but we will have evacuees from the coast coming to Jackson and staying here since it will be safe this far inland, but they will all be filling their cars to return home. So there may be some difficulty finding fuel after the storm. Better to fill up now. (The gas stations and grocery stores will get busier the closer we get to Wednesday.)
2. Once the winds pick up, don’t be on the roads if you don’t have to be out. Plan your week so you don’t need to be driving on Wednesday and Thursday.
3. We will use our gymnasium as a shelter for up to 80 students from Loyola University of New Orleans if they must evacuate their campus. It is likely they could be coming this week – living in the gym, and eating in the dining commons. Help them feel welcome since they will be facing a difficult first days of the school year with this short term relocation. We would only expect them to be with us for a couple days. (We provide emergency shelter ONLY to these students from Loyola and we are not open to the public for shelter – there will be many places in Jackson for others.)
If you’re new to this part of the country where hurricanes sometimes come this time of year, you can track the storm on this web site – the maps are updated every hour. If you’ve been watching the storm models over the past few days you see each update slowly drifting west.
But those of us who have seen many storms through the years know that these storms are unpredictable and often change direction and intensity just before reaching land. So after Katrina, we learned it is better to be over prepared than under prepared.