After the Flood: School sentinels

South Carolina’s 1,000-year rainfall event and catastrophic flooding in October 2015 caused several deaths, scores of dam breaches, extensive property damage, drinking water contamination and agricultural loss. Immediately after the catastrophe, the Office of the Vice President for Research created internal funding opportunities to support relevant faculty research. Thirty-four projects, led by more than 80 faculty researchers, were funded and reports from each project will be presented this October at the S.C. Floods Conference. Here is the last of six stories from a cross-section of the projects.

School sentinels

The S.C. floodwaters in October 2015 took away life and property, but they also claimed something you can’t see as readily: peace of mind.

Looking to assess impacts on some of the most psychologically vulnerable victims of the disaster, College of Education faculty member Jonathan Ohrt is leading a team of researchers focused on the Richland and Lexington county school systems.

“In a natural disaster, schools tend to be a meeting place where there are resources for students and their families as well,” Ohrt says. “It’s just a place that people from the community have come to rely on.”

Interviewing mental health professionals who were primarily school counselors, Ohrt’s team is documenting some of the invisible long-term wounds that the flooding imprinted on young psyches.

“One student, whenever it rains, now gets very nervous because she’s wondering if something bad is going to happen. ‘Are we going to have to leave our house?’ ” Ohrt says. “Another counselor is working with a family that still isn’t in a stable place. They’re having to live in hotels — eight months after the event. Most of us, I wouldn’t say we’ve forgotten, but we’ve moved on in many ways.”

Members of Ohrt’s team, which included department of educational studies colleagues Dodie Limberg and Ryan Carlson, can readily empathize with students and understand the school professionals helping them work through the situation, as well. Two team members were school counselors and another was a mental health counselor in K-12 systems before moving into academia. Coincidentally, all three were in central Florida (in different locations) in 2005 and experienced Hurricane Wilma as it plowed across the state.

“So we were kind of on the front lines before, and now we’re looking at it from a researcher’s perspective as well,” Ohrt says. “We all had some personal experience and actual work experience, which is one of the reasons we felt compelled to work on the project.”

Conference postponed

The SC Floods Conference, initially scheduled for Oct. 7, has been postponed due to Hurricane Matthew. We will announce the new conference date on the SC Floods Conference website and by email to all registered participants, as soon as it has been determined. If you are registered for the conference already, you will not need to re-register.

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