Wayland-San Antonio employee doing double duty during hurricane relief

Release Date: October 2, 2008

SAN ANTONIO – When it comes to rescue operations following the recent hurricanes, one Wayland Baptist University employee in particular has become well versed in the procedure.

              Col. Bobby Morris, a retired Army colonel who works at the San Antonio campus, was part of the logistics and operations team for the city’s efforts to care for the evacuees from South Texas driven inland by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Working as a volunteer under the auspices of Baptist Child and Family Services, Morris’ group specifically was charged with care of those with special needs, typically the elderly in nursing homes or those bedridden.

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Though he downplays his role in the large care effort, Morris is a vital part of the BCFS operation when disasters hit like the recent hurricanes. Called to action by the agency when the hurricanes first begin to threaten, he often served on the night shift to relieve others who work full-time for the agency during the day. As people begin to return to their homes, Morris has less responsibility.

              “I primarily worked the logistics desk and the operations desk during Ike, filling in for other people,” said Morris, who is director of student services and the Institute for Professional Development at WBU-San Antonio. “I’m the bullpen guy, and usually it’s pretty bad when they call me in.”

              BCFS coordinates relief efforts in Texas and helps mobilize response centers in other surrounding states as well. Ike had more impact than the other storms in terms of Texans affected, and Morris said the agency sprung to action like a well-oiled machine. San Antonio had 3,000 evacuees arrive, with only 175 in the special needs population for which Morris and the BCFS team are responsible.

              “We have just a few members of our emergency team that aren’t part of the BCFS family, and Bobby is one of them. During this busy hurricane season, we have sheltered roughly 1,500 special needs persons, and Bobby has been a very valued member of our team,” said Krista Piferrer, spokesperson for BCFS. “In times of emergency, we take the response of ‘all hands on deck’ and that has worked out well for us. Just wherever we need help, we have wonderful folks who step in and help.”

              Morris said the process is much different now than it was a few years back when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Texas and Louisiana with such force. Those storms gave Morris his first taste of such work, at the encouragement of his boss, San Antonio Campus Executive Director Dr. Jim Antenen.

              “Katrina hit on a Saturday, and Dr. Antenen called me the Sunday after and said, ‘I need you to come with me.’ We rode out to Lackland Air Force Base and met with Kevin Dinnin (CEO of BCFS), who needed someone to set up an operation for the hurricane relief efforts,” Morris recalled. “They provided a room and phones, and we started calling people to coordinate volunteer efforts in the shelters. We had four or five shelters open for special needs during that effort.”

              It was no surprise that Morris was called to help, given his background in emergency management. During his military career, he worked with NATO as director of their emergency operations center and knew a thing or two about handling crisis situations. He credits a few combat operations with also instilling a level head.

              So when called on, Morris said it was only natural to offer his help in any way.

              “I very seldom get a chance to meet people face to face, but it’s a matter of helping people, and that’s what we should be doing as people and as a university,” he said. “We’re about helping people, whether it’s the veterans or people who don’t even go here. It’s what we’re all about.”

              After the storm of Katrina and Rita died down on the relief end, Morris attended special training and became certified in incident management, able to serve as a deputy incident commander should the need arise. At the same time, BCFS was maturing its operation and forming a network of volunteers, becoming the lead organization for care to special needs evacuees.

              BCFS began to partner with other entities, like the UT Health Sciences Center, who sent nursing students over to do clinical rotations in the care shelters. They formally aligned with area staffing agencies as well, creating another layer of help.

              Morris said the organization works well together and, though the situations may be stressful, he enjoys working with BCFS when called to do so.

              “They are the finest people to work with. I really enjoy working with them and they’re all about helping people,” he said. “I’m very proud of the work. I see some interesting stuff, as you can imagine, but I consider myself a member of their team and do whatever they need to get done.”

              In his volunteer capacity, Morris often worked his night shifts in the operations center after a full day at Wayland, grabbing sleep in any available pockets of time. If he was set to teach for the evening, he’d have to shuffle his schedule to allow for some rest. He said Wayland was more than supportive of his help to BCFS and gave him leeway to alter his work hours to help out.

              Other Wayland coworkers were quick to volunteer as well, especially during Katrina and Rita when the shelters in San Antonio were full.

              “Wayland has always stepped up to the plate and done what we needed to do when help was needed, and I’ve tried to build that relationship up,” he said.

              Despite the busyness of helping with hurricane relief amid a full-time job, Morris has also been completing his doctoral dissertation for a Doctor of Philosophy degree in business through North Central University. The online program allows for flexibility, but still Morris had to plan his work carefully not to get behind. He plans to finish coursework in 2008 and graduate in May 2009.

              Still, Morris has no regrets about getting involved in the highly stressful and emotional work.

              “The biggest reward I get is just knowing I am helping,” he said. “When you see the faces of these people getting off planes and buses, they have nothing. They have lost their home and their sense of balance. I see my job as helping them find their balance.”