Three weeks ago I was sitting here, in the dark, with no power and 2 dogs listening to the winds howling. This is my 10th hurricane season and I have not evacuated for any of them before the storm. With the power outage I left after — for 10 days! Since I have been here I had not ever been gone from the city for that long.

Things are slowly returning to normal, but with a storm like this there lots of insights. Here are a few.

  1. Climate change is real. PERIODT! This is the second hurricane I have experienced on August 29th, which is also the date Katrina hit. But Isaac in 2012 was very different from Ida in 2021. We had time to plan for Isaac; no time with Ida. Watching the Mayor that Friday say it was impossible to evacuate the city in 48 hours was sobering. Isaac knocked out power on campus for 2 days. Ida knocked it out for 8, and got the entire city while she was at it. 2020 was a record year for hurricanes, and with a new reality of storms like Laura rapidly intensifying as it reached land, just like Ida, we all need to do things differently.

2. We are in a relationship economy, especially during an emergency. We were able to make a lot of things happen due to our relationships. Alumni make up a network. Friends from home are part of a network. Professional colleagues are part of a network. A lot of folks had to figure out Ida on their own because they didn’t have a network. We had friends in Mobile, and Houston, and Little Rock, and lots of places do what they could do help our students.

Dillard students at the University of South Alabama

I shared this clip during orientation for both parents and students. It was from a sermon in May by Howard-John Wesley at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia. Here is 3 minutes about networks.

3. A House is Not A Home. This is my higher ed Luther Vandross Theory. While lots of students complain about all manner of thing related to Dillard (and any other school for that matter), there is a significant number that know that school is better than the place they grew up. Part of one e-mail a student sent to me said “my home situation is tragic.”

It reminded me of a student who told me when I asked them what was the worst part about college and they said “Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Confused by the answer I asked why. They said that’s when they have to figure out where to live because they can’t go home. A weather emergency like this when most can go home or to a relative adds a different level of stress for those with housing and food insecurities.

4. We need more experts in supply chain management.

Three weeks after the storm and the city is not fully functioning. The garbage and debris removal has been a disaster. I just had garbage picked up yesterday (Saturday, 9/18) for the first time since before Ida. Plenty of places are still waiting for trash pick up. Grocery stores have struggled restocking shelves. Deliveries via Fed Ex and UPS have been delayed (or not delivered at all). And going to any fast food place they let you know they have a limited menu. Any people who develop skills in this area will have great careers in government, corporate, even education.

5. Hardening New Orleans must happen with both interventions and preventions.

I got this from Eric Adams who is the Democratic candidate or the mayor of NYC. He was on television discussing how the remnant of Ida flooded New York and caused actually more deaths there than here. He said the city needed interventions (short term fixes) and preventions (long term fixes). New York has some expensive, big ticket items dealing with sewerage and water just like we do.

This is the way everyone in New Orleans should think too. How can we harden what we have for the next rapidly intensifying storm. The fact is you can’t simply evacuate every time a storm enters the Gulf. There is a cost to the disruption of evacuations, plus the message that sends will undoubtedly scare people from living and working in the region. This article by Richard Campanella provides interesting insight.

This is a heavy lift for sure but the work we have to do.

The Prez

7th president of Dillard University