In Johnston County, the days after Hurricane Matthew were frantic. Floodwaters took days to recede in some places; water was unsafe to drink in others. Shelters opened and closed as demand rose and fell, and power was out for more than a week in some Johnston communities.
The aftermath of a hurricane is chaotic, but a grant application from a Clayton High School teacher aims to improve communication and response after the storm.
Clayton High media coordinator Stephanie Souter’s grant application to improve communications during severe weather emergencies is one of five North Carolina finalists in Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow Contest.
Nationwide, 255 state finalists are vying for $2 million in grant funds. State winners will receive $25,000 and be eligible to be one of three national winners who receive $150,000. The contest’s prompt is solving real-world problems with science and technology principles.
Souter said the county’s school system did a good job keeping teachers, students and parents up to date in the aftermath of the storm, letting them know which buildings suffered damage or lost power and the status of classes the next day. (Johnston County ended up missing more than a week of school.) Souter pointed to blog videos of Superintendent Ross Renfrow as particularly helpful, including one video shot in the field by a flooded Neuse River. She said going beyond that was her inspiration for her grant application.
“We happened to be relatively close to the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew here in Clayton, though we didn’t get it as bad as other parts of the county,” Souter said. “I took a look at what we had done and thought about how we can make this even better, working towards helping other students in other parts of the county.”
Souter said she wanted to focus less on the communication efforts during a disaster and more on the days and weeks of recovery. She said the school system could use the district’s Google education apps to help direct aid and recovery to the places that need it most, aiming to cut down on redundancy and improve efficiency.
“That’s the way students communicate now, through technology,” Souter said. “I certainly knew something like this could happen again, perhaps not a hurricane, but an ice storm or some other event.”
“The flooding made us more aware; when we saw that happening, we recognized it as probably the biggest source of potential danger,” Souter said. “It was clear people would need food, clothing, any kind of resource.”
Souter aims to develop a hurricane-response website in the classroom if funded, specifically tapping into Comets Care, one of the school’s service clubs. She’ll seek other avenues if the Samsung contest doesn’t work out.
“Our idea was to help communications, building a website that everyone in the county could tap into,” Souter said, “coordinating different town municipalities, Clayton Area Ministries and groups like Goodwill.”
For being one of five North Carolina finalists, Souter’s classroom will receive a Samsung Galaxy Tab. For phase two of the contest, she had to submit a lesson plan on how she would roll out the project in the classroom.