Murray State fills role as emergency center

Photo Courtesy of WKMS
Murray State was declared a Storm Ready University in January 2011. Murray State, along with four other universities in Kentucky, is considered to be Storm Ready by the National Weather Service.Photo Courtesy of WKMS Murray State was declared a Storm Ready University in January 2011. Murray State, along with four other universities in Kentucky, is considered to be Storm Ready by the National Weather Service.

Story by Zachary Orr, Assistant News Editor,  and Julia Mazzuca, Staff writer

Photo Courtesy of WKMS Murray State was declared a Storm Ready University in January 2011. Murray State, along with four other universities in Kentucky, is considered to be Storm Ready by the National Weather Service.

Photo Courtesy of WKMS
Murray State was declared a Storm Ready University in January 2011. Murray State, along with four other universities in Kentucky, is considered to be Storm Ready by the National Weather Service.

Murray State not only impacts the community through providing higher education and acting as one of the area’s largest employers, but also is the Emergency Operations Center.

This role, said Jeff Steen, assistant director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, is unusual for a university to play. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines an Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, as “A location from which centralized emergency management can be performed. EOC facilities are established by an agency or jurisdiction to coordinate the overall agency or jurisdictional response and support to an emergency.”

The University’s role as the community’s chief EOC was established in 2009, when a severe ice storm placed both Calloway County and Kentucky in a state of Emergency, said Roy Dunaway, director of Public Safety and Emergency Management.

During the storm, when the Calloway County EOC’s generator failed, the county asked to join Murray State’s EOC. Steen said the city’s EOC quickly expended all its resources and asked to join Murray State’s EOC as well. 

Dunaway said Murray State had the resources and was better prepared for this scale of emergency, that left much of the area without power, water or phone service.

“Due largely to that success, we’re still the Emergency Operations Center of the county,” Dunaway said.

Steen said Murray State not only acted as the EOC for the city and county, but also used Lovett Auditorium as a shelter for the community when the Red Cross was unable to provide power to their shelter area.

“It wasn’t as comfortable as you would have liked to have hoped, but nobody got hypothermia and nobody starved,” he said.

The University also served meals out of Winslow Dining Hall. Steen said he was unsure of exactly how many were fed during the storm, but he knew there were many.

“Anyone who was hungry who showed up at Winslow, anyone in the community got fed,” he said.

After the storm hit, communication throughout the state was disrupted, Steen said. Frankfort contacted the Murray State EOC and asked it to establish contact with Hickman and Carlisle counties, whom the state had not heard from since the storm hit.

“We don’t know if they’ve fallen off the edge of the map,” he said.

Murray State was quick to assemble a taskforce that traveled to the two counties, bringing kerosene and opening roadways, Steen said. A combined effort of volunteer firefighters, emergency medical services and public health individuals made up the team.

Steen said Murray State’s skill in organizing during extreme situations is why it continues to act as the county’s EOC. The University acted as EOC for all the snowstorms that affected the Murray area this past winter as well.

“We’re very proud of what we have and our organization,” he said.

Although Murray State acts primarily as the area EOC, the city and county emergency services as well as the local Red Cross play a vital role.

Steen said the University strives to maintain a healthy relationship with the other parties in order to be as effective as possible during emergency situations.

“We each have our own responsibilities, but a team effort is always better than trying to do it by yourself,” he said.

Steen said the city is taking steps to strengthen its EOC. The new fire station under construction on the northern side of town might act as the EOC for the city in the future.

“Perhaps, it will take over as the primary EOC and Murray State will become the secondary EOC,” he said. “But, we’re unsure of that.”

Regardless of whether or not the new station will serve as the new EOC for the city, David Burdette, interim chief facilities officer for Facilities Management, said Murray State is happy to serve the community by acting as EOC, and will continue to help the city and county in emergency situations.

“What I think it speaks well of is the mutual respect that each of the agencies have for each other and how Murray State opens itself up to the community,” he said. “We’re a member of the broader community and want to be.”