Tornado touched down: Now what?

Mississippi State is there to help whenever severe weather strikes the Magnolia State. Numerous organizations around campus provide emergency-response resources, and MSU Extension Service led the way after severe weather struck this past spring.

State disaster-response coordinator Elmo Collum of Extension is one of just two people on the state emergency-operation committee that responds to resource requests from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Then, MSU Extension’s agriculture and family/consumer science agents are assigned to visit the hard-hit areas to determine exactly what resources are needed. That can include everything from clean-up equipment to survival supplies, and personnel may also be deployed to assist in shelters.

People who want to help should follow protocol when responding to disasters, Collum explains. After the governor declares a state of emergency, he dispenses emergency personnel and equipment through MEMA. However, Extension owns the equipment and houses the personnel, so MEMA sends Collum a mission statement listing which resources are needed, and then Collum contacts the appropriate Experiment Stations. Finally, Collum’s emergency-operation committee sends disaster-assessment teams and disaster-work teams into the field, first to help people, then to address ravaged landscapes.

As the assessments are made and respective requests are fulfilled, MSU Extension Service partners with people and organizations to ensure everyone who needs support gets it. Fact sheets, frequently asked questions and related resources on disaster preparedness and recovery information are available at the Extension Service’s website,

While MSU Extension plays a lead role in recovery efforts after severe weather, other MSU organizations and volunteers step up in times of tragedy. The university maintains its land-grant heritage—using learning and research to serve the community, whatever its needs may be.


Athletes act immediately

The Bulldog Nation doesn’t have fans. It’s a family. So when the tornados blasted through the Magnolia State in April and MEMA asked for volunteers the next day, the Bulldog Nation responded in full force.

Baseball, football, soccer, softball, track and volleyball players, alongside coaches, sports-medicine personnel and equipment staff, put the word out. They Tweeted, Facebooked, messaged and called. Together, more than 100 athletes set up the centralized tornado-relief center––and its working infrastructure––in the parking lot at MSU’s Palmeiro Center.
MEMA led the effort by organizing teams, but the student athletes did the work, says Rhett Hobart, assistant coordinator with athletic promotions. Some groups set up climate-controlled tents; other teams assembled shower units. Additional duties included putting together bunk beds and tables.

The basketball team and its entire staff, led by coach Rick Ray, also mobilized immediately. Because their associate director for media relations, Gregg Ellis, is from Tupelo, the team and coaches went there to help one particularly hard-hit neighborhood there. The players cut trees, removed debris and even posed for photos with neighborhood kids.

“There’s a very real comfort to know you have the support in the wake of a tragedy, even more so when that support comes from people you’ve never met,” says Bob Carskadon, assistant director of media relations in sports information. “The primary goal of relief efforts is often the physical—clearing trees, providing goods—but I tend to think the mental and emotional support are more important.”

Kyle Niblett, sports information social media coordinator, emphasizes that helping in times of tragedy, especially when the going gets really tough, is just the Bulldog way.

“Mississippians are the lifeblood of our athletic department,” he says. “Our family invests so much time, energy and resources in supporting all of our sports, so when they need help, we will drop whatever we’re doing to make sure we give it right back to them.

“They love us and we love them back. It’s what makes being a Mississippi State Bulldog special.”


Counselors mobilize for kids

As soon as schools reopened in May after a tornado hit Louisville, faculty and students from Mississippi State’s Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology were there, ready to provide crisis-intervention services children so desperately need after a traumatic event.

Assistant professor Tawny Evans McCleon says her department has a long-standing relationship with the schools, so after the tornado outbreak, she immediately contacted the Louisville Municipal School District assistant superintendent Ken McMullan. McCleon volunteered MSU’s counseling services and mobilized a group of students studying school psychology, clinical mental health and rehabilitation counseling. She also reached out to her colleagues with training and experience related to disaster-crisis prevention.

“Our group of crisis interventionists were able to provide psycho-educational-, group- and individual-crisis intervention to approximately 125 students within the school district,” she explains. “We provided helpful literature to school administrators and teachers regarding meeting the needs of students during and after the crisis. Also, the crisis-team members were able to help with sorting supplies and creating care packages for displaced students.”

When children experience a traumatic event, adults need to be able to recognize the warning signs so the young people can receive the assistance they need, McCleon explains. Indicators of trauma might include headaches, difficulty sleeping or fear of going to school.

“Often, children are not able to express their feelings; they usually just act. We have to make sure that adults are empowered to recognize the warning signs and access resources so none of these students are overlooked,” she says. “We’re not only offering one-on-one individual counseling; we’re also providing psychology-education information to teachers, parents and administrators.”

Early intervention for children can help them feel safer and return to a “normal life” faster, and McCleon emphasizes that, whenever teachers, administrators or students need crisis interventions, her department will be ready to offer those services.


Rebuilding ‘Our State’ together

Volunteers from Center Ridge in Louisville were already working with Mississippi State community-development experts when the tornado hit. But when lives and landscapes were changed forever as the tornado touched down, so did the volunteers’ plans.

Before the storm hit, the Friends of Dean Park organization, which maintains Dean Park and works to increase its usage, had joined the Appalachian Community Learning Project. The results-based grant program is a community-enhancement partnership led by MSU’s John C. Stennis Center for Government and Community Development, the Appalachian Regional Commission and The Rensselaerville Institute.

Initially, the plan was to design and build a walking track for the park.
But plans changed when Ruth Eichelberger-Bennett, owner of “Miss Ruth’s Daycare,” tragically died.

“Miss Ruth was my second cousin. When the tornado came, Miss Ruth died at the daycare, but the one little girl whose parents hadn’t picked her up was alive. That little girl was found in Miss Ruth’s arms, and many believe Miss Ruth saved the child’s life,” explains Friends of Dean Park Vice President Elmetra Patterson. “So after the tornado hit, we had to change our plan with Stennis: We wanted to put a mural of Miss Ruth with the little girl that was found in her arms on the concession stand as we did renovations on the building.”

Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute representativess were supportive every step of the way, assisting with conceptualizing the budget and fundraising efforts, Patterson explains. “They called and checked on us after the disaster. They helped us raise money, not for the concession stand project, but for our own organization to use for disaster relief,” Patterson emphasizes.

“People were already signed up to rent the concession stand before it was finished, and we’ll have it open two Fridays per month. We’re going to get new volunteers and new members of our organization. It’s all coming together,” she says. “Mississippi State’s support— Stennis’ support—made it possible for us to plan our grand-opening of ‘Miss Ruth’s Babies’ Concession Stand’ in September.”


By Leah Barbour, Photography by Megan Bean and Russ Houston

Mississippi State personnel, including representatives of Campus Operations and MSU Extension Service, went to Louisville to assist with community recovery from the EF4 tornado that blew through the town.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum and Athletic Director Scott Stricklin stopped by the tornado relief staging area for the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security Task Force.

Mississippi State students, including Bulldog Baseball pitcher Lucas Laster of Lewisburg, Tenn., help set up a tornado relief center in the parking lot of MSU’s Palmeiro Center.


Supporting storm survivors

After 12 tornados swept through the state in April, approximately 5,000 volunteers—students, staff and faculty—with MSU’s Maroon Volunteer Center helped the Magnolia State begin to recover after one of the worst days of severe weather in state history. Together, Mississippi State volunteers helped local businesses, non-profit and not-for-profit organizations to mobilize volunteers, remove trees and debris, and gather and distribute food, water and emergency supplies.

   United Way of Lowndes County
   Volunteer Resource Center
   Louisville Coliseum
   Louisville Red Cross Shelter
   Samaritan’s Purse
   Volunteer Resource Center
   All Hands
   Volunteer Resource Center
   Mars Hill Volunteer Fire Department
   Salvation Army in Jackson
   United Way of the Capital Area
   Red Cross Northeast Mississippi Chapter
   Salvation Army
   United Way of Greater Northeast Mississippi

MVC volunteers also got involved in donation drives based in Starkville.

Java Juice

LA Green

Midtown Pilates


Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services

Pinelake Church



Starkville Army Navy Store

Starkville Glass & Paint

Starkville Salvation Army

Strange Brew Coffee House

The Veranda


Thanks to all the other campus organizations that got directly involved in assisting survivors of the tornados’ devastation. Some of the MSU student groups and organizations that got involved included AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), the Association for Student Social Workers, the Athletic Department, Barnes & Noble, Campus Operations, College of Education, Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Disaster Animal Response Team Student Chapter at College of Veterinary Medicine, Early Childhood Institute, John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development, Marketplace at Perry, Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network, MSU Extension Service, School of Human Sciences, Student Association and Recreational Sports.