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CCU Atheneum: Carissa Medeiros is the emergency management director at CCU.
Carissa Medeiros is the emergency management director at CCU.

Carissa Medeiros: The calm among the storm

by Connor Uptegrove
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This past September, when the palmetto trees began to bend at the trunk, the pellets of hard rain fell on the buildings of campus and the monstrous swells crashed on the shore from Hurricane Florence, Coastal Carolina University’s Emergency Management Director Carissa Medeiros felt calm, prepared and focused.

In fact, even when the storm was only a green, red and yellow stain off the coast of Western Africa on a weather monitor, Medeiros began to mobilize resources and plans she had spent years developing. She sent daily briefings to executive level officials at the University. She carefully tracked the path of the spaghetti models and the error cone. It’s her responsibility to constantly stay aware of every potentially hazardous situation.

As the stain grew in the lukewarm waters of the Atlantic and the red center turned to a bright purple around the wall of the hurricane’s eye, Medeiros organized meetings with emergency groups on campus and local officials to begin the necessary and proactive and responsive actions.

From her office in the Coastal Science Center, Medeiros coordinated and communicated with more than 35 different departments on campus. Her thought process embraced the community, the students and the faculty that she keeps safe, and her 16 years of emergency management training took over like instinct.

“Doing this for so long, I discovered that I do well in high-stress situations,” said Medeiros. “For me, it’s all about helping others; it’s got to be about others.”

Medeiros has a natural attitude for public service. She has served her community for more than a decade and a half. Her husband, Michael, is a firefighter. When dangerous situations arise that threaten her community, Medeiros answers the call.

“Carissa is committed to organizational goals and has set a distinguished standard for the Emergency Management program here at CCU,” said Randy Wuest, an emergency management specialist at Coastal. “When you combine that with her experience and knowledge, she demonstrates an effective leader who is very proficient and passionate about her work here at Coastal Carolina University.”

In 2000, Medeiros graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from West Virginia State University. After working for a year in the West Virginia Governor’s Office, she decided to finally make the move to Myrtle Beach where her husband worked.

“We just decided that we couldn’t live apart anymore, but I told him that I wasn’t moving down until I found a job, any job,” said Medeiros.

Throughout the next 11 years, she moved up the chain of command in Horry County Emergency Management to the deputy director position.

Five years ago, Medeiros left that position to begin a new department at CCU that focused on keeping the campus community safe from hazardous situations.

“When the University approached me, they understood that there was an expectation for emergency programs at college institutions,” said Medeiros. “They saw the need to prepare the University, and it piqued my interest.”

Medeiros was tasked with creating a comprehensive program that prepares the University for all hazards, such as natural disasters, technological mishaps and man-made threats. The program was meant to train the entire University community from an individual and academic perspective so that the institution can still maintain its essential functions in the wake of hazards.

“When parents send their kids off to college, they want to be assured that there is a plan in place for every situation,” she said.

Since the creation of the Emergency Management office, Medeiros has developed plans for every situation possible, including hurricanes, flooding, ice storms, technological crashes, armed shooters, fires and other hazards.

No matter if the ice crystalizes on the roads or the flooding inches past record numbers, Medeiros has mapped out ways to keep Coastal safe and prepared, down to handing out highlighter-yellow drawstring bags at orientations to pack with emergency supplies.

The bags are just the starting point for Medeiros’ efforts. Her team developed an emergency preparedness guide that carefully details CCU’s policies. The first page of the book is even left blank for students to write their contact information down.

The winter after she joined CCU, a dangerous ice storm struck the area. In 2014, a crippling winter storm brought South Carolina to a state of emergency. In 2015, the Waccamaw River flooded to record levels. Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, followed by the threat of Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Each year, Medeiros and her team kept Coastal operating, and Hurricane Florence proved to be the test of the training she’s worked to develop since day one.

“It all boils down to training staff,” said Medeiros. “It gives me confidence to know that in these situations, they are prepared and ready to go.”

Even if a hazardous incident exhausts local resources, Medeiros has prepared the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which consists of staff selected to represent their areas of expertise and able to direct personnel at all stages of an emergency. The EOC acts as a central place for information during an emergency allowing for efficient application of resources to resolve the incident.

Medeiros also assembled two groups of CCU staff members. The first team, the Emergency Management Executive Group, includes the University president, vice president, the provost, and other campus leaders. The second team is the Emergency Management Team, consisting of directors from many vital divisions of the institution, including University Housing and Facilities. These two groups work to support all response and recovery efforts.

Medeiros believes that perhaps the hardest and most tedious efforts in hazardous situations come after the rain clouds clear, the wind slows and the flooding subsides.

“We’re in recovery mode for a year to two years after the storm,” said Medeiros. “We are still working on the impacts from Matthew.”

Once normal operations resume after an emergency event, Medeiros and her team start coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to write grants for assistance and to evaluate insurance coverages of the damages.

Medeiros says that there is never a day when her team isn’t busy. Whether it’s training staff for future emergencies, providing resources for students or recovering from disasters, CCU’s Emergency Management department works tirelessly.

While each hazard, storm or threat tests the resiliency of Medeiros and the University as a whole, her leadership has had a favorable impact on CCU’s readiness and response capability.

Sometimes it isn’t easy. Medeiros is always aware that when Myrtle Beach and CCU are at risk for a disaster, she must evacuate her two children while she remains at Coastal and her husband goes to the fire station, both ready to respond to any calls. “You’re doing this to keep people safe.”

When the next storm aims its fury at CCU, when the palm trees begin to flail and the rain beings to pour, Medeiros will be waiting and ready to serve.

 

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