Hurricane Ivan: A Case Study of University Faculty in Crisis Management

By Piotrowski, Chris; Vodanovich, Stephen J. | Organization Development Journal, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Hurricane Ivan: A Case Study of University Faculty in Crisis Management


Piotrowski, Chris, Vodanovich, Stephen J., Organization Development Journal


ABSTRACT

This study offers a unique perspective on crisis management in action. The eye of Hurricane Ivan (September 16, 2004) struck the city of Pensacola FL and inflicted major damage to the University of West Florida (UWF) campus just a couple of weeks after the start of the semester. A survey instrument on the extent of impact on teaching and concomitant modifications to coursework for the fall semester was completed by 117 faculty members. The findings indicated that disruption to standard instructional practices was minimal. We conclude that an organization's response and adaptability to crises, such as natural disasters, is largely a function of dedication on the part of employees, mitigation planning, and decisive leadership.

Introduction

The past decade has witnessed increased attention on the issue of crisis management at colleges and universities in the United States (Siegel, 1994). One specific area that has undergone intense scrutiny recently is how colleges/universities prepare for, function in, respond to, and organizationally restructure in facing natural disasters. Specifically, Worsley (2007) presents a traditional management framework for emergency planning in higher education; these include preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery. Other researchers propose adapting crisis management systems at colleges/universities based on programs implemented by business organizations (Mitroff, Diamond, & Alpasian, 2006). In a recent study on Hurricane Katrina, Dolan (2006) cautions that most colleges and universities are inadequately prepared to effectively address and manage crisis.

Lalonde (2007), in discussing the nexus of crisis management and organization development, notes that organizational contingencies which focus on management planning in disasters tend to emphasize mastering hazards; however, such approaches do not foster organizational resilience in coping with crises. At the same time, Richardson (1993) suggests that the use of case studies may foster our understanding of crisis management. Since natural disasters are isolated events and the college/university campus is a microcosm of organizational life, we thought it would be of interest to shady the impact of Hurricane Ivan (2004) on a select group of educational employees.

To that end, the purpose of the current study is a) to review the literature on the impact of hurricanes on college/university settings, b) present findings on how faculty at one university adapted to their occupational responsibilities, and c) to outline some of the critical organizational issues that challenge university leaders and administrators facing the onerous impact and recovery from hurricanes.

Review of the Literature

There is limited professional and scholarly literature on the impact of natural disasters on college/university life (Barnes, 1998). The president of the University of Miami discussed the myriad challenges he faced in dealing with widespread campus destruction immediately after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the long-term organizational crises that followed (Foote, 1996). Brown (2000) recounts the experience of East Carolina University in coping with the flooding due to Hurricane Floyd in 1999. He warns administrators in higher education to have campus-wide disaster emergency plans in place with contingencies regarding business interruption factors such as electrical power, water outage and food supply.

Furthermore, Harrell (2000) stressed the importance of adequate back-up systems to sustain emergency operations over a prolonged time frame and the challenge of managing a host of continuing stress situations in the wake of Hurricane Floyd. These issues are central to crisis management in dealing with natural disasters by both public and private business operations (Piotrowski, Armstrong, & Stopp, 1997).

In recent years, several reports have appeared on the onerous impact of hurricanes on the campus environment along the Gulf coast, particularly Hurricane Katrina. …

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