The Tuscaloosa tornado provides an example of how student housing communities can deal with a natural disaster.
As news of April’s tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, came streaming into the Landmark Properties’ office, we were devastated to see news coverage of the unimaginable destruction in the town we hold dear. After learning that our residents and staff members at The Retreat at Lake Tamaha were safe, our first thought was, “How can we help?”
After quickly sizing up the situation, we sprang into action. The first item on the agenda was to establish communications with residents and parents to reassure them that though The Retreat had no power, phones, or internet, it was miraculously undamaged and that our management team was on site and available to help in any way we could . We knew that our residents and their parents would need constant updates on the rapidly evolving situation in Tuscaloosa, so we sent mass email and text message notifications to residents and parents letting them know that any new information we received would be available to them on our Facebook page.
Next, we talked with our on-site team to determine the immediate needs of the residents at The Retreat, and our corporate team rented a moving truck to fill with the essentials: bottled water, hamburgers, hot dogs, charcoal, granola bars, flashlights, and, most importantly, an emergency generator. A relief team comprised of several owners and corporate staff members were en route with emergency supplies less than 24 hours after the tornado struck.
The destruction we found as we reached Tuscaloosa was gut-wrenching. Cars had been tossed around as though they were weightless, houses were stripped from their foundations, and enormous trees were uprooted, leaving gaping holes where they once stood tall. When we arrived at The Retreat, the relief on our residents’ faces was visible; spirits were lifted with the knowledge that someone cared about their well being and wanted to help. They all came out to help unload the truck and were happy to get the grills started for an impromptu cookout, but they were thrilled when we got the generator started. There were no luxuries like air conditioning or TV, but we strung up lights as well as power strips for everyone to charge their cell phones.
With no landline phones or internet, Facebook updates from our cell phones quickly became our primary form of communication with residents and parents. Communications were difficult for everyone at the time. In fact, one resident’s mother posted on our wall that she was concerned she was unable to reach her son. To put her mind at ease, our leasing director walked to his cottage with her cell phone and the message to call home.
As we received new information from the Tuscaloosa Police Department and the National Guard troops stationed nearby, we provided updates such as estimates on when the power may be restored, what nearby streets were closed, and even notification that we had food waiting for them at the clubhouse. Students and their parents were grateful for the frequent updates and expressed their gratitude through Facebook posts like this one from a parent: “Thank you for all the updates, providing meals, added security and use of the generators for the students to charge their phones. I’m glad my son is a part of The Retreat!!”
We are pleased to have provided comfort to our residents during the disaster and now that power has been restored to The Retreat, life is getting back to normal. Many in the area are not so lucky, so we are continuing relief efforts by opening our doors to those displaced by the tornado and offering immediate move-ins with no leasing fees. In addition, The Retreat at Lake Tamaha is planning a fundraising event to raise money for the Tuscaloosa recovery. It will be a great time to celebrate Tuscaloosa’s fighting spirit and to give to nearby families in need of our help. We are honored to be a part of the Tuscaloosa family.
James Whitley is the Vice President and COO of Landmark Properties.