Episode 139: Your school is struck by a tornado. What next?

By SchoolStatus 3 min

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Dr. Ben Burnett served as a school administrator through Hurricane Katrina but he never imagined he would face two more powerful tornadoes later in his career.

In Part 1 of our interview about what to do when a natural disaster strikes your school district, Dr. Ben Burnett reflected on how he and his colleagues kept students and teachers focused after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Burnett was the principal of a middle school in Lamar County Mississippi during the devasting hurricane, but a few years later he took on the responsibilities of Lamar County Superintendent.

But even Hurricane Katrina could not fully prepare Burnett for what happened to one of his high schools just eight years after Katrina.

Dr. Ben Burnett

On February 10, 2013, Oak Grove High School, near Hattiesburg Mississippi was struck by a powerful EF4 tornado that cut a path three-quarters of a mile wide and had maximum sustained winds of 170 mph. The tornado demolished a field house and caused significant damage to much of the large high school.

Burnett says that as he first rounded the corner to survey the damage at Oak Grove High School, he thought, nobody ever prepared him on how to manage in this situation.

Fortunately, the storm struck on a Sunday, and while there were a few people in the school, there were no fatalities or injuries. However, the cleanup expenses would run into the millions and the disruptions to instructional time and extracurricular activities had to be addressed.

By 2017 Burnett had retired as Superintendent and he was now the Dean of Education at William Carey University. Unbelievably, a powerful EF3 tornado struck at Burnett’s new job site. It was his third natural disaster.

In the early morning hours of January 21st. The tornado packed winds of 145mph and damaged 58 of the 60 buildings on WCU’s campus. Remarkably, Burnett’s William Carey University story is one of resileence. They adminstration moved quickly and had students back in class in just two days.

To hear the full story on how Dr. Ben Burnett responded to both tornadoes, listen to Episode 139 of the Class Dismissed Podcast.

This is part two of a two-part interview. Tune in to Episode 138 to hear Burnett talk about Hurricane Katrina.

You can listen to the latest episode of Class Dismissed on iTunes here.

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