Fire Inflicts Extensive Damage Near Church

By Pamela Bond

Waco Tribune-Herald

Aug. 14, 2007

Waco firefighters put out a fire that damaged a building belonging to a local church Monday afternoon.

No one was injured in the blaze, reported about 4 p.m. in a two-story white building at 1415 Washington Ave. The building, owned by St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, included an upstairs apartment previously used for the church’s youth group.

Damage to the building appeared to be extensive. Church custodian Jerry Hassel said he heard an explosive popping sound shortly after 4 p.m. while he was in a nearby building and saw flames in the first story of the white building. Cathy Smith said she was working in another church building when she also heard the sound but thought it was a door closing.

After the popping sound, electricity went off in the buildings where Smith and Hassel were working. Hassel ran to Smith and pointed out the fire, and Smith called 9-1-1.

“The second floor used to be used for the youth,” Smith said. “It’s got some old furniture that had been donated, but it hasn’t been used for a while. But we’ve had trouble with vagrants living in the first floor because we’ve seen evidence such as food and even pets. That’s what concerned me when I called, was that someone might be in there.”

As the temperature rose above 100 degrees, the Waco firefighters worked to get the fire down. They searched the building but found no one.

“The boys did a good job,” said Waco fire Capt. Chris Pechacek. “If there’s ever a possibility that someone may be in the building, we’ll be sure to go in and check.”

Firefighters were concerned about the fire moving to the building next door, also owned by St. Mary’s. While the fire melted the siding of that building, Pechacek said Smith’s quick call probably saved it from the flames.

Waco Fire Marshal Jerry Hawk did not know the fire’s cause Monday afternoon, though he said the fire obviously started from a small flame. Pechacek said it began on the first floor.

NT Professor Investigates Sept. 11 Evacuations

By Pamela Bond

North Texas Daily

Sept. 12, 2006

CLICK HERE to see a PDF of the newspaper page this story was printed on

CLICK HERE to see a PDF of the newspaper page this story was printed on continued

Two days after Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. James Kendra of the public administration faculty and his colleagues from the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center (DRC) arrived in New York City to study the emergency evacuations that had occurred during the attacks.

While they documented several aspects of the evacuations, one rather unexpected method was found. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people evacuated by means of waterways.

“Lots of boats, of all descriptions – not just the ferries, but tugboats, dinner cruise ships, privately-owned vessels – came to help even before the towers collapsed,” Kendra said. “Some headed east to Brooklyn, some to New Jersey and some got stuck headed south at the water’s edge.”

These impromptu rescuers also included the dock workers, and those who carried people and supplies into the city.

“Waterfront workers and maritime personnel directed passengers to an appropriate area where they might find a boat to take them to a destination close to home or to where they might find other transportation,” said Trisha Wachtendorf, a member of Delaware’s DRC and Kendra’s colleague on the project. “At the same time, a boatlift operation emerged and vessels involved in the evacuation began transporting supplies, equipment and emergency personnel to the city.”

The World Trade Center is located in Manhattan’s financial district, which sits on the east end of the island, near the boat docks and ferry terminals to Staten Island, Ellis Island and Governor’s Island. Therefore, those trying to evacuate had a close proximity to the harbor.

“The Coast Guard issued a request for all available vessels,” Kendra said. “But the interesting thing was that the response was completely unplanned and spontaneous. Those who responded with vessels organized themselves for the evacuation.”

To understand how these people managed to coordinate an unanticipated evacuation of this multitude, Kendra divides his research to three separate dimensions.

First, Kendra looks at how they improvised, using communications, equipment and the boats themselves. The second part of the study is a social networks analysis, which involves finding out who knew whom before the attacks, who met whom during the evacuations and who still has a relationship with whom. The final part, a geographic dimension, is a study of how these people physically came together.

Kendra and The Colony graduate student Brandi Lea, who has assisted Kendra on the project for a year, have traveled to New York City twice this year to interview those involved in the evacuation.

 “We try to figure out how they improvised, how they decided to do what they did, if they used any equipment they wouldn’t normally use,” said. “We also ask who they communicated with, how many times they communicated with other people. We’re trying to find out who was the most integral part of the process.”

Back at NT, Lea said she writes literature reviews on evacuation pieces and reviews the transcripts of these interviews.

“Also, when we interview them, we have them mark down on a chart where they were at different times,” Lea said. “We’re trying to create Geographic Information System (GIS) database so that we can see how many evacuation runs they did and things like that.”

While Kendra started his research while working at the University of Delaware, he now works at NT as the program coordinator for the Emergency Research and Planning program. However, he and the team in Delaware still work together on the project, and the $350,000 grant recently awarded to them from the National Science Foundation will be divided among the two schools.

The grant will continue to fund the data gathering, analysis and undergraduate/graduate education involved in this project.

“It can be kind of depressing, re-living Sept. 11 over and over again, but I think this project is really interesting,” Lea said. “It’s something I haven’t done before, and this work is helping me with my future career.”

NT Tries to Help Displaced Katrina Students

By Pamela Bond

North Texas Daily

Nov. 8, 2005

Since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, displaced students at NT are starting to recover and focus on the normal college lifestyle. However, paying tuition costs may be more stressful for these students.

Almost 100 students and four faculty members transferred to NT after the hurricane from Tulane, Xavier, Dillard and Loyola, among others. Any tuition paid to these schools for the fall 2005 semester is nonrefundable, according to displaced students who spoke up at the “Let’s Talk” session on October 24.

Instead, schools which were closed due to the hurricane will credit the tuition paid to the next available semester, once the institution opens again.

However, paying tuition for two semesters at once seems to be the problem for most students in this situation. Students paid for the fall semester at their old schools before the start of the semester, and then they again paid for NT tuition.

“We definitely do not have this kind of money, and it’s surprising that many other schools are opening their doors to the displaced free of charge, but this school is not,” Brittney Phoenix, New Orleans freshman, said in a letter to President Norval Pohl. “I hope that you understand where I’m coming from and try to accommodate us as best as possible.”

Since NT is a public university, it does not have the authority to waive its tuition, as SMU did. Also, NT distributed its fall scholarship funds last spring, and was therefore unable to give scholarships to the new students, which is how the University of Houston managed to accommodate its displaced students without tuition, according to Pohl.

“The university acted as fast as possible,” Marcedes M. Fuller, San Antonio sophomore and director of relations, communications and marketing for SGA, said. “If they had tried to waive the fees, it would have taken a lot longer to bring the students here and enroll them and everything.”

Instead, NT has found other ways of assisting these students. First of all, all out of state fees were dismissed, which would have almost doubled tuition.

Also, the student development office has various ways of helping students.

“We’ll work with them to find on or off campus jobs and make sure all financial aid requests are in,” Bonita Jacobs, vice president of student development, said.

In addition, student development has a new money management center, located in the rec center. The center works with students to help them better their finances. They will suggest ways to increase funds, such as through work or funds, and reduce costs, such as by taking on a roommate or consolidating credit card debt.

“Each student will be worked with individual basis, since all their situations are going to be very different,” Jacobs said.

Also, while most financial aid is distributed on a yearly basis, some scholarships are given out each semester, for those students staying through next semester. In addition, some students might be eligible for grants from FEMA.

“A lot of these students will be staying through next semester, in the spring, and that means something different than those who will be here all year,” Jacobs said.

To help other displaced students, not at NT, the university created six online courses, which could be taken from any computer connected to the internet. The courses, US History to and from 1865, Art Appreciation, Principles of Nutrition, the Solar System and Principles of Language, were considered highly transferable and required no prerequisites.

NT also donated a free online course to the Sloan Consortium.

“There are numerous efforts on campus for the students, but SGA is sort of in the middle,” Fuller said. “We’d want to see these students supported and welcomed on campus, but we also have to adhere to the university and government policies.”

To help others affected by the hurricane, the NT community collected $32,000. In a letter sent to the NT community last month, Pohl responded to efforts by saying “I’m extremely proud of the students, faculty, staff and volunteers who worked around the clock to help those in need during this recovery period.”