An official from the National Weather Service of Springfield, Missouri, declared Pittsburg State University as “StormReady®” in a press conference at PSU on Monday.
PSU is the first university in the region served by the NWS in Springfield to receive the distinction, and one of just 3,000 entities nationally, noted Steve Runnels, warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS, in the ceremony.
To earn it, an entity must have completed a set of rigorous warning criteria:
• Establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center;
• Have more than one way to receive severe weather forecasts and warnings and to alert the public;
• Create a system that monitors local weather conditions;
• Promote the importance of public readiness with students and staff;
• Develop a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.
PSU President Steve Scott credited Director of University Police Stu Hite for his leadership and ideas, and Vice President for Student Life, Steve Erwin, whose division oversees University Police and the campus-wide alert system called RAVE. They have continued to analyze it and other forms of emergency notifications in recent months to ensure PSU is as ready as possible for severe weather events. More than 25,000 severe thunderstorms and 1,300 tornadoes impact the United States annually.
“It’s pretty clear storms are getting more severe, so this planning effort is more important than ever before,” Scott said, noting that events like Commencement in May routinely draw thousands of people to campus, and that the partnership with NWS is invaluable.
“The safety of the students, faculty, and staff is paramount — that’s what we’re all about,” Scott said.
The RAVE system sends alerts to all computers on the PSU network, as well as cell phones and landlines. The university maintains a crisis communication protocol for its social media channels and has added NOAA weather radios across campus. The University Police Dispatch is manned 24/7, employs trained spotters, and works closely with partner agencies like the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Management.
Hite schedules large events at PSU with NWS weeks in advance so that they can contact him the day of if severe weather is possible.
“We take the safety of our students, staff, faculty, and visitors very seriously,” Hite said. “We have made it a priority to ensure that anytime there is the potential for severe weather, or severe weather is happening, we communicate quickly and effectively and have a process in place.”
Hite thanked the NWS for “a great partnership — and it starts before the storm comes.”
Runnels presented PSU with a certificate and StormReady® signage, noting that emergency communications “won’t stop a tornado,” but does ensure that the impact of such events will be lessened. He cited the 2011 Joplin tornado — an EF5 — as being very educational when it comes to alerts and the public’s response.
During the ceremony, the NWS also presented Crawford County with a StormReady® distinction, accepted by Emergency Management Director Rusty Akins.