February 5, 2008 — As Colin Hood sat through the University of Virginia's First-Year Convocation in August, his thoughts wandered southwestward to the awful events from five months earlier at Virginia Tech where 32 students and faculty were killed.
He looked around John Paul Jones Arena, and a startling thought hit him: It could happen here.
Hood is not obsessive, but he is motivated. Many of his friends and family in suburban Richmond knew one of the Virginia Tech students killed in the shooting spree; Hood knew of others who were directly and indirectly affected by the tragedy. The whole experience "had a huge impact on me," he said.
In the weeks after the convocation ceremony, Hood founded Hoos Ready, a student group focused on disaster preparedness. The group is planning a major membership drive Feb. 12 through 14, hoping to raise awareness in the University community with the lure of free T-shirts and gift cards.
Membership won't be very demanding, he said. Students, faculty or staff who join will be asked to sign a pledge to be prepared, provide their e-mail address and register for the U.Va. Alerts text message-notification system. Hoos Ready will even have computers at the registration tables to facilitate the U.Va. Alerts sign-ups.
It's a simple concept, but a vital one, Hood said. People are most vigilant immediately after a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech, but their zeal soon begins to wane. It's human nature.
"They all kind of assume that someone else will take care of it," Hood said. "No one is really willing to bring it up."
The Hoos Ready T-shirts will be visual reminders, and monthly e-mails — planned for the 11th of each month, coinciding with the date of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington — will offer emergency awareness safety tips.
Sample tip: Refrain from using your cell phone in emergency situations, freeing up frequencies for emergency responders.
"A lot of these things, people already know," Hood said. "They just forget."
When Marjorie Sidebottom, U.Va.'s director of emergency preparedness, spoke at his dorm a few days after the First-Year Convocation and invited students to get involved, Hood quickly e-mailed her and requested a meeting. By the time they got together, he had already picked a name for his group and had checked out the requirements to become an officially recognized student organization.
"Colin is a natural leader," Sidebottom said. "He is organized, innovative, creative and follows through.
"We have met and brainstormed, but he and his friends have created this organization with minimal guidance."
With support from Sidebottom, Hood lined up a $7,000 grant from the U.Va. Parents' Committee and $500 more from student activity fees, which the group is using to purchase the T-shirts, membership cards, stickers and banners. The United States Department of Homeland Security sent along 3,000 emergency preparedness brochures. Hood, who is from a Richmond suburb, hopes to raise more funds from local businesses, plus gift cards to hand out randomly to ‘Hoos Ready members who can produce their membership cards.
There seems to be student interest. Before the group's current Web page, www.hoosready.org, went live, 315 students had joined a "Hoos Ready" Facebook group..
Most of the group's new recruits will not be in it for the free shirts, Hood insists. "I think people will take it seriously.
"Whenever I brought it up, a lot of people have a lot of personal stories to share," he added.
Translating those stories and concerns into constructive action is what Hoos Ready is all about.
"We need to create a culture of emergency preparedness across our University community," Sidebottom said. "Colin is an excellent example of someone taking individual responsibility by using his energy and leadership to make a difference across Grounds."