P!Nterview: What Katrina taught Loyola U
Loyola University New Orleans Provost Edward Kvet shares how better planning is protecting and propelling Loyola to the forefront of well armed colleges and universities in storm zones.
New Orleans is emerging from one of the most disastrous natural and man-made disasters in national history. Post-secondary institutions stand at the forefront of its transformation. Hurricane Katrina forced colleges and universities there to recognize the urgency of hurricane preparedness, and it showed the city how vital these institutions are to its health.
Loyola University New Orleans (Loyola) stands at the forefront of New Orleans’s metamorphosis. In 2009, the university was given an Award of Excellence by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)for its Crisis Communications Plan. That plan is just part of the story. A senior chemistry major and P!N Hurricane Relief Scholarship winner, Alex Girau, interviewed the university’s provost to glean some of the wisdom behind Loyola’s recovery.
Q. What was the most devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on Loyola?
A. Loyola suffered very little structural damage and short-term financial damage, even though there were budget and program cuts. However, maybe the most significant damage was the personal losses suffered by our faculty and staff, over 60% of whom had total or significant loss of their homes.
Q. How did the hurricane impact enrollment?
A. Loyola’s freshman enrollment before Katrina was 900 students. Our current demand is higher than that. We attribute this to New Orleans’s new reputation as a city of unique opportunity and entrepreneurship- a sort of exciting “social experiment”.
Q. How did Katrina shape the university’s present Hurricane Emergency Plan?
A. Hurricane Katrina and other emergencies, such as the Virginia Tech shooting, forced Loyola to adopt a more robust action plan that accounted for several evacuation types (short, medium or long term). In 2006, Hurricane Gustav threatened the newly renovated levee system surrounding the city. This gave Loyola a chance to execute and evaluate our new plan. In the end, the levees held, and Loyola performed a successful evacuation with two weeks of successful distance learning through the Blackboard online classroom system.
Q. If you could wave a magic wand and have any wish granted regarding preparing Loyola to withstand severe storms– what would it be?
A. Regarding the Loyola community: I would wish that we be able to prepare for the various unexpected circumstances that invariably arise, and be able to successfully and safely meet the needs of our students, faculty, and staff. In terms of the City: post-secondary institutions like Loyola, UNO, Dillard, Tulane and Xavier account for the majority of the City’s employment…Katrina made the City realize the importance of its education sector. Indeed, we have been pivotal to the City’s recovery.
Q. What important lessons that you learned from this experience do you most want to share with other college and university campuses?
A. As advice for staff and administrators: institutions with a strong mission and sense of community will fair best in times of stress. Days after the university was closed due to Katrina, the first decision made by Loyola President, Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., was to pay faculty and staff during the evacuation. We believe that the people and the community come first. What doesn’t break a community makes it stronger.