Natural disasters are becoming ever more commonplace all over the world. An environmental crisis is possible in any area of the USA. This means that colleges in every part of the country need to have implemented a range of solutions to the increasing threat of natural disasters. Only some colleges can be sure that they are protecting their communities to a high standard. The 30 colleges in this article are all shining examples.
Each region of the United States has to adapt to different kinds of potential disasters. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to protecting students, faculty, staff, and property from an environmental emergency. However, colleges are, in many ways, well equipped to deal with potential natural disasters. Many have faculty members who are creating solutions to climate emergencies. They also have leaders from a range of backgrounds that involve disaster mitigation and management. And lastly, they also have budgets that they can dedicate to crisis management.
Natural disasters can have a major impact on the future of a college. Often, a natural disaster takes much longer to overcome than many people realize. In fact, Megan Kurtz of California State University-Chico says that it “is a 15- or 20-year recovery.” This is due to several reasons, such as a decrease in enrollment (and therefore budget.) Therefore, a college prepared for a natural disaster is about so much more than building strong structures, evacuating students, and repairing buildings. It is also about budgetary planning and managing recovery efforts over a long period of time (and implementing better prevention strategies in the future.) The ability to plan for a long term recovery is key for any disaster-ready college. And this foresight is a strong factor in the below rankings.
Any of the 30 colleges below is a great choice for a student who wants to study in a location prepared for natural disasters. However, it’s also possible that none of the colleges below are right for you. If that’s the case, then this article can still be a vital resource. Every entry has a detailed summary of how the college is preparing for a disaster. These have been included so that you can compare and contrast their plans with your college options. If your college is implementing a similar disaster relief plan, then that’s a strong sign that it’s a college worth attending.
A range of sources has been used to identify colleges with strong natural disaster plans. These sources are as follows:
Campus Explorer, Natural Disasters and Emergency Preparedness on Campus:https://www.campusexplorer.com/college-advice-tips/8CBD4286/Natural-Disasters-and-Emergency-Preparedness-on-Campus/
Student Training & Education in Public Service, Disaster Planning and Emergency Preparedness for Students: https://www.publicservicedegrees.org/resources/emergency-and-disaster-prep-for-students/
The Hechinger Report, What has happened when campuses shut down for other disasters? A coronavirus case study: https://hechingerreport.org/what-has-happened-when-campuses-shut-down-for-other-disasters-a-coronavirus-case-study/
The Chronicle of Higher Education: 5 Lessons From Campuses That Closed After Natural Disasters: https://www.chronicle.com/article/5-lessons-from-campuses-that-closed-after-natural-disasters/?cid2=gen_login_refresh&cid=gen_sign_in
Inside Higher Ed, Going Online When Disaster Strikes: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/09/06/universities-proactively-prepare-online-transition-amid
Administration & Society, Disaster Resiliency and Culture of Preparedness for Universities and College Campuses: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254257861_Disaster_Resiliency_and_Culture_of_Preparedness_for_University_and_College_Campuses
After locating the source colleges in these articles, we then conducted further research into the colleges’ natural disaster plans. This further research informed our final ranking.
The criteria for the final ranking is as follows: evidence of an effective natural disaster plan, number of mentions in the methodology sources, evidence of being able to overcome the long term effects of a natural disaster, evidence of helping students in the event of a natural disaster, commitment to improving natural disaster planning/preparedness in the future and evidence of innovative planning.
The final ranking, from 30 to one, is below:
30. Monmouth University
West Long Branch, New Jersey
Mary Anne Magy, the vice president for student life at Monmouth University, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that “the human element” of communication is key to her college’s disaster recovery plans. Monmouth University community members have both the Emergency Management reference guide and the guide for a safe campus. Both of these documents extensively detail the steps that students, staff and faculty should take in the event of an emergency. However, the college also highlights the importance for community members to make their own emergency plans that suit their own specific circumstances.
29. Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
Campus Explorer uses Purdue University as an example of a college that has extensive emergency preparations in place. Since 2006, the college has had the Emergency Preparedness and Planning Office, located in the college’s Environmental Health and Public Safety Department. This office considers tornadoes to be “the number one hazard facing the university.” To combat tornadoes, the college has a range of shelters for community members to utilize. Additionally, the college also has a range of systems in place to warn people of a natural disaster as soon as possible, such as text messaging, warning sirens, fire alarms, digital signs, and more.
28. Rice University
The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that since Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, Rice University has worked on improving its messaging in times of crisis. For instance, it customizes the information it gives to different parts of its community instead of sending out information that some would find irrelevant. Rice University’s crisis management team has “an ‘all-hazards’ approach to Emergency Management,” which prioritizes life safety above all else. After this, it focuses on incident stabilization, protection of property/the environment, preservation of research/assets, and the resumption of research and teaching.
27. Pepperdine University
Thanks to Pepperdine University’s response to a wildfire in 2018, the college faculty members were already trained to teach online when coronavirus struck America, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Pepperdine University’s current emergency preparedness guide is extensive, running to 111 pages. 15 of these pages are devoted to natural disasters, with everything from avalanches to tsunamis accounted for. Other parts of this guide assist in issues concerning natural disasters, such as psychological assistance, wildlife attacks, and utility outages.
26. Lone Star College Kingwood
The Woodlands, Texas
In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit the campus, Lone Star College-Kingwood took the then drastic step of moving all of its education to a hybrid/fully online model for the rest of its semester, Inside Higher Ed reports. And in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Lone Star College students who were struggling with instability could access a relief grant to help them cope. And to help students find the information they need rapidly, the college had a basic emergency plan, a detailed emergency plan, an emergency plan summary, and 24 easily accessible emergency plan annexes.
25. Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, California
The Hechinger Report praises Sonoma State University for maintaining its enrollment in the wake of wildfires. The college’s Emergency Management Program aims to prepare the college “at all times to respond to circumstances and situations that would affect the university’s ability to fulfill” its responsibilities. And the college is always fast to implement safety measures. For instance, in October 2020, while the college’s campus was not predicted to be under threat from the Glass Fire, it still decided to suspend all non-essential on-campus activities due to poor air quality.
24. University of St. Thomas
After Hurricane Harvey hit the University of St. Thomas’s campus in 2017, the college had to switch to online learning until the campus could be restored. This allowed the college to prepare for future disruptions that would require a switch to online learning, Inside Higher Ed notes. However, the University of St. Thomas has embraced technology in other ways to help students in times of crisis. For instance, it has created the Get Ready, Already! app that gives community members guidelines for emergencies.
23. Palm Beach Atlantic University
West Palm Beach, Florida
For over a decade, Palm Beach Atlantic University has maintained a plan that results in instructors modifying assignments during emergencies, mitigating educational disruption, Inside Higher Ed reports. The emergency planning at Palm Beach University also ensures that post-disaster recovery is swift and safe for students. Once an extreme weather event has passed, the college deploys “Crisis Management Team members and Campus Safety and Security” to the campus to assess the buildings. These teams then conduct repairs and withhold on allowing other staff, students, and faculty to return to campus until they alert college officials.
22. College of Southern Maryland
La Plata, Maryland
Several times, Administration & Society refers to the continuity of operations plan that College of Southern Maryland has created as a strong example for other colleges to follow. Part of what makes the College of Southern Maryland’s emergency preparedness plans strong is the After Action Report. This report allows college community members who have participated in emergency exercises or events to suggest improvements to the efforts on campus. Additionally, the college also has evacuation chairs on all of its campuses, which help people with disabilities escape emergency situations.
21. Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa, California
In 2017, after the Tubbs Fire, Santa Rosa Junior College realized that it needed to expand the mental health resources on campus that were available to students, The Hechinger Report states. The college has since incorporated greater access to mental health services into its emergency management plan. And in 2018, when another series of wildfires threatened the campus, the Santa Rosa Junior College president messaged every student, reminding them that the college had plenty of resources for any student who may be affected by the fires, including a $500 grant and a 24/7 emotional support hotline.
20. University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
The earthquake emergency preparations in place at the University of California, Los Angeles feature in Campus Explorer’s college emergency preparedness article. The college is always looking for new safety solutions. In 2017, for example, the college launched a safety app that sent important safety information to its campus community. This app is constantly updated to improve its use for those who may have to rely on it. Additionally, the University of California, Los Angeles’s Office of Emergency Management also maintains the Campus Emergency Operations Group, comprised of college leaders and community members who help coordinate emergency relief on campus.
19. The George Washington University
The continuity of operations plan that The George Washington University has created is praised in Administration & Society for its comprehensiveness. The college’s disaster relief efforts were tested in 2017. Although the college’s campus was not affected by the natural disasters of that year, George Washington University’s leadership realized that some of its community would be. Therefore, the college made a range of resources available to students and staff affected by natural disasters in other parts of the USA. This included offering mental health services, an emergency student fund, and the donation of resources.
18. The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
In 2008, The University of Iowa’s campus flooded. While this flood was bad, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the college has since made drastic efforts to mitigate the damage from any future flooding, such as stockpiling critical equipment and making extensive plans. Additionally, the college also has an Emergency Management Director who “is dedicated to ensuring that every part of the UI campus is as prepared as possible to mitigate, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters.” And if an emergency does unexpectedly hit The University of Iowa’s campuses, then the college’s Hawk Alert system aids community members, including sirens, voice alert systems, phone notifications, and more.
17. The University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Administration & Society refers to The University of Utah’s pre-disaster mitigation plan as a document that reduces the risk of the college failing to resume function after a disaster. The University of Utah’s Department of Public Safety is responsible for the college’s emergency management services. This department’s emergency management program has coordinated with various other departments within the college to ensure continued operations and its students’ welfare during times of crisis. And to ensure that disabled community members can evacuate during a disaster, the college also has a range of Stryker evacuation chairs strategically placed across campus. Additionally, the college’s School of Medicine also runs the Public Health & Disasters Conference.
16. University of Georgia
Administration & Society praises the University of Georgia for enrolling some of its community members in an eight-week training program in emergency management. Additionally, the source notes that community members who complete this program join the college’s campus community emergency response team. The University of Georgia also has the Office of Emergency Preparedness, which has been operational since 2002. This office is proactively expanding safety measures all the time. For instance, in the 2019 to 2020 college year, it implemented an automated external defibrillator program that became active within all of the college’s residential and support facilities. It also added 29 new automatic external defibrillators to support this program.
15. North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
The summary of North Carolina State University’s disaster resistance initiative is frequently referred to in Administration & Society as a strong example of a college emergency plan. However, North Carolina State University is also proactively working to protect its environment from disasters by researching vulnerable areas. For example, the Kenan Natural Hazards Mapping Program is currently researching a range of coastal hazards and forming strategies to improve the resilience of coastal environments. One of its current research projects is to monitor and evaluate a six-mile stretch of North Carolina shoreline that was constructed to protect an important bridge, for instance.
14. Oklahoma State University
Due to the frequency of tornadoes in Stillwater, Oklahoma State University had devised the means to switch its education to an online model for periods of time over a decade ago, Inside Higher Ed notes. Oklahoma is also developing technology to help with disaster relief efforts everywhere. For example, in 2020, the college announced that its Unmanned Systems Research Institute was developing a drone encased in a protective cage that could be sent into unstable environments. This drone will “not only assist first responders but potentially save lives.”
13. Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi, Texas
Inside Higher Ed notes that Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi’s disaster preparations includes training instructors to provide distance learning in times of crisis. It also notes that the college’s learning management system was hosted in Northern Virginia so that resources would be safe in the event of severe weather on campus. Lastly, the source states the college has even established a call center for students and instructors to provide the latest emergency information to all who called. Additionally, to ensure that every community member is aware of college protocols, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi has both the Quick Reference Guide to Campus Emergencies and the extensive Emergency Management Plan, which runs to 161 pages.
12. University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Wilmington, North Carolina
Since the year 2000, when it received $100,000 from the Disaster Resistant University initiative, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington has “made a conscious effort to incorporate disaster resistance into university planning, policy, and procedures.” These efforts were put into action in 2018 when a hurricane destroyed 13 of the college’s apartment halls and tore off part of the science building’s roof. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington managed to clean up the damage swiftly. And while the term time was shortened, students were given weekend classes, online programs and studied during what would have been the fall break to make up this lost time, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes.
11. University of California, Berkeley
Inside Higher Ed notes that the University of California, Berkeley’s technology setup has made it well suited to moving online during times of crisis. And both the college and the college’s students have groups that work to prepare for and mitigate natural disasters. The college runs the Berkeley Office of Emergency Management, a unit of the college’s police department. Students run the Berkeley Disaster Team that undertakes various responsibilities, such as managing resources and logistics, supporting victims with psychological first-aid, and distributing food and supplies.
10. Murray State University
Student Training & Education in Public Service states that Murray State University has a great emergency plan. In addition to this, The National Weather Service also considers the college to be a Storm Ready campus. What helps with the college’s emergency planning is its RacerAlert system. This system lets the college’s police department provide emergency information to the college community promptly via text messaging and online updates. Murray State University is specially prepared for tornadoes. It tests its sirens every quarter to ensure that the college community will be properly alerted in the event of a tornado.
9. Houston Community College
The Hechinger Report notes that after Hurricane Harvey impacted Texas, Houston Community College gave out over $7 million to students who receive financial aid. Since this event, the college has expanded its emergency aid resources for students significantly. Now students can access the Tech Ready Emergency Grant, the Federal Emergency Cash Grant, the SWOOP to the Rescue grant, discounted and free technology, and more in times of crisis. Additionally, Houston Community College’s safety plan/manual is 120 pages long, showing that the college is prepared for disasters of all kinds.
8. Binghamton University, The State University of New York
Binghamton, New York
The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that Binghamton University, The State University of New York’s executive director of emergency management, Dave Hubney, was instrumental in creating the Universities & Colleges Caucus of the International Association of Emergency Managers. This organization lets colleges share resources in times of crisis. Thanks in part to Hubney, Binghamton University, The State University of New York has an extensive emergency management plan, which covers everything from helicopters landing safety on campus to psychological first aid, as well as the more typical emergency procedures. In fact, the plan has 30 annexes and eight appendixes.
7. Lee College
Ever since Hurricane Ike hit the campus in 2008, Lee College has required professors to make all of its course materials available to students online to help ease natural disaster disruptions, Inside Higher Ed reports. Additionally, Lee College goes above and beyond when it comes to warning students of a potential natural disaster. For instance, it “has a state-of-the-art notification system” and outdoor warning sirens. And the college can raise funds for students after a disaster. For instance, after Hurricane Harvey hit, the college’s leadership created a relief fund for students that raised $100,000 in just over a month.
6. Illinois State University
The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that Illinois State University’s emergency management team members have made great use of the Universities & Colleges Caucus of the International Association of Emergency Managers. Additionally, the Emergency Management Department of Illinois State University has extensive resources to mitigate and prevent disasters. For instance, it has over 500 two-way radios with a 10-mile coverage radius and a dedicated channel that reaches the college’s police department. In 2019, the college also launched a safety app, Safe Redbirds, a news feed, a tracker that can be shared with friends, and other safety features.
5. University of Washington
Administration & Society notes that the University of Washington benefits from having Steve Charvat as its Emergency Management Director. Before joining the college, Charvat was the Director of the Training, Exercise, Mitigation, and Plans Division for the District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency. Since joining the University of Washington, Charvat developed an emergency management and continuity plan that has become “a model for other colleges and universities nationwide.” However, the college has many more experts in natural disaster management on its campus. For example, the college has a department dedicated to Natural Hazards and the Institute for Hazard Mitigation Planning and Research.
4. Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana
As a college based in New Orleans, the location of the worst natural disaster to strike mainland USA in the 21st century, Tulane University needs to have a strong disaster preparedness plan. Campus Explorer notes that the college’s hurricane guidelines are incredibly detailed and that the institution goes above and beyond to protect its students. The Chronicle of Higher Education also praises the communications that Tulane University gives to students in times of crisis. The college has an entire office dedicated to emergency preparation and response. Additionally, it also has a hurricane guide for its students, which details all of the precautions that college students need to take in the event of extreme weather.
3. Butte College
Both The Hechinger Report and The Chronicle of Higher Education cite the help that Butte College provided to students after the 2018 California wildfires as a strong example of a college responding well to a natural disaster. The college helped students by providing laptops, gas gift cards, and access to mental health counseling. In 2020, Butte College expanded these student disaster support services after receiving $13.6 million in funding. This money led to the creation of a range of emergency assistance funds, a housing program, and a basic resource center for students impacted by emergencies.
2. California State University, Chico
Student Training & Education in Public Service, The Hechinger Report, and The Chronicle of Higher Education all reference California State University when discussing emergency preparedness. One impressive fact about the college, which The Hechinger Report notes, is that the college managed to avoid a drop off in enrollment after wildfires shut the campus down for over two weeks. California State University, Chico, is also well equipped with emergency equipment. For instance, there are 40 different Automated External Defibrillators located on campus.
1. University of Oregon
The chief resilience officer and associate vice president for safety and risk services at the University of Oregon, Andre P. Le Duc, is a great asset to his college. He is also the founder and head of The Disaster Resilient Universities Network, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes. Administration & Society also commends the college’s Emergency Management Program for running the Disaster Resilient Universities Network. Additionally, the University of Oregon also runs the Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience, which is a research program that is “working toward the mission of creating a disaster resilient state.” Lastly, the college’s own natural Hazard Mitigation Plan is impressive. It even provides a detailed map of all the campus areas that are at risk of falling trees in the event of a severe storm.