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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

Caught in the Path of Hurricane Harvey

September 5, 2017

Nearly 30 institutions and systems of higher education were in the path of Hurricane Harvey. Teri Zamora, senior vice chancellor, finance & administration at the Houston Community College (HCC) System shared her experience with NACUBO in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. Zamora is a member of NACUBO’s Community Colleges Council and treasurer of the Texas Association of Community College Business Officers.

What were the most immediate questions you sought to answer following the storm?

After assessing our campus buildings, we focused on determining when and how to reopen. We have 23 locations spread across our service delivery area, which is 600 square miles. Amazingly, the damage to HCC campuses and facilities upon initial inspection was not catastrophic. For several days, there were a few locations that we were not able to reach due to flooded roads. We were able to monitor most via security cameras during the interim.

Our focus quickly turned to our students and our employees. We tried to quickly gather information on the status of employees and determine how many lost their homes and/or had to evacuate due to flooding. The situation changed daily, as levees were opened and closed and evacuation orders were updated. We used the information to estimate the impact on students. 

How did you determine when to reopen?

We assessed what would most support student success and minimize the number who felt the need to drop out. 

What steps can the college take to contribute to the recovery of the community?

We have already contacted state authorities about providing short-term construction certificates. The construction and repair industry will be under stress and will need workers possessing certification. This will likely also help support those seeking immediate work. Many of them may have lost jobs due to the hurricane.

What other problems are you planning for in the foreseeable future?

We should anticipate the long-term needs of our employees and students, many of whom lost much, and in some cases lost everything. Last week, we met with leaders of the HCC Foundation regarding the structuring of a fund that will be helpful to those in need. Our conversation focused on how to solicit donations, prioritize the requests for help, assign decision makers, and determine how to distribute funds to individuals.  

We are very concerned about our ability locally to meet the needs of students and employees. Any assistance from the foundations of other institutions, employees of other institutions, and others would be greatly appreciated as we attempt to fund these personal needs. Our HCC Foundation executive director is reaching out to other community college foundations to share information about how they can help HCC students and employees.

While our infrastructure is largely intact, I must underscore that the flooding devastation is massive in the greater Houston area and the personal and financial tolls facing many individuals are extreme.

How can students, faculty, and staff throughout the United States help? What are the immediate needs of HCC students and staff?

When a disaster such as Harvey devastates a community, the natural reaction out of compassion and concern is to “send stuff” to Houston, but the best way to support disaster victims is with financial donations. Unfortunately, collecting and sending food, clothing, and other household items can do more harm than good. HCC encourages donors to follow Red Cross guidelines.

Here are some organizations providing relief:

Additional volunteer and contribution options can be found in The Houston Chronicle.