ESJ students draw up safe room plans

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, May 20, 2015

LAPLACE — Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck Louisiana and the greater Gulf Coast over the span of just 13 days in 2008.

That was three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did the same thing over the span of 27 days in 2005.

“We’re not vulnerable once a year,” St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom said. “We’re vulnerable many times a year. We were fortunate there was nothing after (Hurricane) Isaac (struck in 2012). We talk about sea level rise and climate change. There is something going on in our environment that is making us more susceptible. The episodes that are happening are worse than they have been in the past, which is why we really need to be prepared.”

Robottom delivered that message Thursday to East St. John High School 4-H club members in the parish’s emergency operations center.

Her words of awareness followed praise she delivered to the students for their work finalizing a formal request to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Hazard Mitigation for a grant to build a safe room in St. John Parish.

The students’ effort mirrors an ongoing project parish officials have undertaken to build such a structure to operate from in cases of natural and man-made disasters.

“The fact that you all have gone through this process over the last several months makes you a lot better off than a lot of people in our parish,” Robottom said. “We’re pleased to host you all, so you can see what takes place in your community and why decisions are what they are and how they are made.

“Hopefully you picked up on a little piece of something that will drive your future and you will come back here and serve the community.”

The East St. John High School 4-H club was chosen as the second school in Louisiana to participate in the state-funded hazard mitigation program, which partnered state officials with students to walk them through developing plans to protect a publicly owned facility from being damaged by a natural disaster.

Students DeLloyd Gray, Hannah Duhe, DaQuan Moore, Emily Bartholomew, Korey Lee, Dylan Rodi, Keondre Standberry, Donald Fluker, William Ledet, Jeremiah Smith, Jahya’ Allen, Jehya Allen, Kyle Henderson and Coy Vedol participated.

The Statewide Hazard Mitigation Community Education Outreach Project funded the effort, which has been dubbed “Get a Gameplan.”

Debbie Hurlbert of the LSU AgCenter, who helped lead the students through the project, said the 4-H members have a better understanding of the vulnerabilities and risks associated with natural disasters through many hands-on class sessions throughout this school year. The project culminated last week as the students presented a plan for a $204,732 safe room, which would be constructed at 1801 W. Airline Highway and come with an operations center, sleeping and bathing facilities for men and women and a kitchen.

“This is a real project that you guys have looked at,” Robottom said. “I think you knew that. We received a little more funding than what you came up with, and we’re glad you gave us the inside, because FEMA will not give us the inside.

“What we realized with an event that comes and goes is it’s very easy to mobilize and use this space. But if it is a long-term event, we needed something else. FEMA agreed with us, which is why they are funding a safe room for us.”