Tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes oh my!

January 17, 2013

The most riveting entertainment, besides the carnal details of Silvio Berlusconi’s life, comes from The Weather Channel. Like any teenage soap, the direction of events on The Weather Channel are somewhat nonsensical and there’s always a plot twist at the end. As a small child who was clearly above the pettiness of morning cartoons, I would spend hours watching the weather and attempting to understand the patterns.

This obsession with weather was in no way ill-placed or a sign of deeper issues. I spent my early childhood in Dallas, home to sudden and frequent weather changes. Many of my afternoons at school were spent learning about how to respond to weather emergencies, such as tornadoes, wildfires, hail storms, and even hurricanes (the latter was for those of us that dared to venture further south toward the Gulf of Mexico).

While the importance of this emergency education may have been lost on the other children, it was certainly not lost on me. I learned how to use a Doppler radar to detect where a tornado is most likely to occur and I tuned in my radio to the emergency weather channel every night, just in case the sirens didn’t go off in time. With my urging, we established a family protocol for responding to natural disasters, from where we should congregate to what to bring with us.

This level of enthusiasm for emergency preparedness is generally uncommon, even in Dallas, Houston, and other areas of the U.S. that experience various forms of extreme weather. Despite this, it’s a required part of Texas education and thus is ingrained in the minds of everyone who has passed the fourth grade. As such, I assumed that other states had similar programs, even in places that are generally meteorologically stable. Upon moving to D.C., I realized that this was not the case. Many Hoyas have no idea what to do in the event of a tornado, flash flood, or hurricane and Georgetown does a poor job of preparing them.

Since coming to the Hilltop there have been two hurricanes, an earthquake, multiple floods, and a tornado in D.C. The year before I matriculated, the District was also hit with an enormous snowstorm, fondly named “Snowpocalypse.” The past few years have shown that not only is Washington woefully unprepared for anything out of the norm, but much of the U.S. is as well. Cities across the country have seen extensive damage and unnecessarily lost lives due to a lack of preparation. Weather patterns have changed due to climate change and natural disaster preparedness is now applicable to everyone, whether their home sits on a seismic fault line or not.

Georgetown is responsible for our safety and as such should spearhead the effort to educate students about emergency response to natural disasters. While the call for volunteers for the Campus Community Emergency Response Team is a step in the right direction, emergency training should not only be directed toward those who volunteer. Practicing for freak events such as tornadoes should become a part of every Georgetown student’s orientation. The University shouldn’t wait until something has happened—such as the earthquake—or is occurring in a matter of days—as with the hurricanes—to inform students of proper procedure. In doing so, students are unnecessarily put into harm’s way.

College is about a lot of different things, but most importantly it’s about learning life skills and preparing for the world outside of the front gates. One of the most important life lessons is learning how to fend for oneself, including during disasters and unpredictable events. However, it cannot be expected of 18-22 year olds to figure it all out by themselves. Experts on everything from the politics of India to how to get a career in the art world are brought to Georgetown to educate students. Being a top university doesn’t only extend to what is done in the classroom, but also to the experiences of students and the quality of life on campus. In the spirit of cura personalis, the University should help us ensure that we are cared for physically but teaching us how to keep out of harm’s way and deal with events that we have absolutely no control over.

In a perfect world, there would be no natural disasters or everyone would watch The Weather Channel and anticipate weather events as religiously as I do. Neither of those is realistic, and so we must learn to cope with the meteorological changes that the Earth is experiencing, and will continue to experience. Georgetown must move with the times for the safety of its students and to ensure that its graduates leave school as prepared as possible.


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Whit Chaiyabhat

It seems you should spend some time to get to know the good folks in GTown’s Department of Emergency Management & Operational Continuity (DEMOC)…become part of the solution! I’m sure they’d enjoy speaking with you.