The University of Houston-Victoria's emergency communications infrastructure passed its first real-world test with the Hurricane Ike crisis.
"We're constantly making plans and acquiring the best resources to keep our employees and students safe and informed in the event of an emergency," said Genaro Cortez, UHV campus safety and risk manager. "Hurricane Ike proved to us that our preparations work."
The process began with the Emergency Response Team, a group of key leaders on campus who examined the situation and decided the best course of action would be to close the school Sept. 11 and 12.
UHV then communicated that decision, along with constant updates, to students and employees through the Public Information Emergency Response (PIER) system. The computer system transmits a common message to UHV stakeholders through automated calls to home and cell phones, text messages and e-mails.
"We can get emergency information out to our people through whatever means they have available," Cortez said.
The system was first used on Sept. 9 to notify stakeholders that UHV was tracking the storm. On Sept. 10, the system was used to announce the decision to close the university because of the approaching storm, and it provided continuing updates on the status of the university.
The system is still being used to keep faculty, staff and students in the Houston area informed about operations at the University of Houston System at Sugar Land and UHS at Cinco Ranch, both of which were affected by Hurricane Ike. The Sugar Land campus is still without electricity, while Cinco Ranch only regained power late Wednesday.
UHV also posted regular updates to its emergency Web site at www.uhvemergency.info.
"We updated the Web site throughout the four days UHV was closed, and we continue to do so," UHV Communications Manager Paula Cobler said. "That same information was then sent out to everyone through PIER."
The same process allows the university to notify everyone in the event of a crime on campus or any other natural disaster, Cortez said.
The physical equipment behind most of the UHV system is located off campus and is accessible via the Internet.
"We can access the system from anywhere there is an Internet-connected computer," Cortez said.
The system works best if faculty, staff and students keep their contact information up-to-date so UHV can communicate with them. Emergency contact information can be entered and updated at the emergency Web site, www.uhvemergency.info.
"In a dangerous situation, someone's life may depend on a single piece of information," UHV President Tim Hudson said. "We've invested in the people and the resources to make sure that information gets to the people who need it. I want to praise everyone for the fine job they did, and the job many of them continue to do, in a very difficult situation."
In July, UHV underwent a Risk Management Program Review by the State Office of Risk Management. The final report praised UHV's emergency preparations, including its use of the PIER system, its business continuity plan and the ongoing efforts of the Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee.