Student-Run Emergency Preparedness Group at U.Va. Surpasses 1,000 Members

August 26, 2008

Aug. 25, 2008 — It can be pretty tough to track down Colin Hood these days.

The founder of Hoos Ready, the University of Virginia student-run emergency preparedness group he founded last fall, finds himself dashing from one meeting to another as the academic year begins.

Last week, the second-year student from Richmond was tied up in resident assistant training, both as a trainee and a trainer — he addressed his fellow resident staff members-to-be about his organization, which promotes emergency preparedness through handouts and e-mailed safety tips.

He and his Hoos Ready colleagues are spending the first part of this week attending first-year dorms' mandatory safety and security briefings, giving new students binders full of emergency information and their pitch: register for the University's emergency text-alert system, and sign up for Hoos Ready. (Membership has its privileges — if you are caught walking around Grounds with your membership card, you might immediately be presented with a color-shifting plastic mug.) Hood will also address fraternity and sorority presidents on Thursday, handing out preparedness posters for each chapter house.

Earlier this summer, Hood made a presentation to state college and university officials at the Governor's Conference on Campus Preparedness in Richmond.

"It was very well-received. A lot of people came up to us afterward and had a lot of questions," Hood said. He's also fielded inquiries from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where students would like to establish something similar.

Hood's zeal is having a major effect. Less than a year after its founding, Hoos Ready entered the fall semester with 1,000 members — and at least 400 more had joined in the first 75 minutes of Monday's jam-packed student activities fair, where Hoos Ready T-shirts were going nearly as fast as the free Italian ices being handed out on a nearby sidewalk.

The organization recently won designation as a "special status" group, recognizing that it acts as a contracted agent of the University. The status brings with it University financial support, said Marjorie Sidebottom, the University's director of emergency preparedness.

"It gives us more stability, and everything we do is under the University's name," Hood said.

Another sign that his efforts are taking root: More than 15,000 University community members are now signed up for the University's text alert system.

Hood founded Hoos Ready last fall, after Sidebottom spoke about preparedness at his dorm. Mindful of the Virginia Tech tragedy that had occurred six months earlier, the then-first-year student approached Sidebottom with an idea for a new student organization. Sidebottom encouraged him, and he was off and running.

He quickly lined up a $7,000 grant from the U.Va. Parents Committee and received $500 more from Student Council. In April, the group issued the first of its monthly safety tips, which always are e-mailed on the 11th in memory of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That one dealt with setting up plan to communicate with distant family members in case of an emergency.

Since then, tips have included designating contacts in your cell phone with the acronym "ICE" — In Case of Emergency — to alert responders whom to call in case you are unable to communicate; preparing for hurricanes, dealing with flooding, and this month, suggesting the first steps to take upon arrival on Grounds, like what to include in an emergency kit.

Hoos Ready is seeking additional ways to promote its monthly preparedness themes, including "chalking" safety messages on sidewalks, said Hood, who is also serving this year as president of Student Council's Safety and Wellness Committee.

"Everything's going great," Hood said at the activities fair, surveying the huge crowd. "I'm hoping to draw every one of them in."