Arkansas Tech named Heath Whorton as emergency manager in early August, the newest position the university has created.
“I don’t think it was a vacant territory before I got here,” Whorton said. “I think it was a lot of different people from a lot of different places that were trying to make do with the things that an emergency manager is normally responsible for.”
Whorton refers to himself as the facilitator of people, department and organizations that play a role in preparing Tech for disasters, as well as protecting it and its people when one occurs.
In the event of and in preparation for a disaster, he works with the Russellville community, Tech’s populace, the academic department of emergency management, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and local organizations. “I can’t have ownership over preparedness,” Whorton said. “I’m here to facilitate preparedness.”
Eventually, Whorton hopes to create a Student Organizations Active in Disaster, or SOAD, a Tech-focused adaptation of the national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).
“It will have the emergency manager for campus, chief of public safety, department head of academic emergency management and leadership of every student organization that wants to be there,” Whorton said.
The goal of SOAD will be to bridge the gap between on-campus organizations and emergency management departments.
Whorton’s most recent focus has been updating the 300 page emergency preparedness plan Tech is currently operating under.
“It’s going to be more useable and concise,” he said.
The first step in ensuring the updated plan is successful in times of crisis is testing out the revised response plan.
“I get to create a scenario that will test the plan,” Whorton said.
“I’ll be one of the only people that know what the scenario is going into testing.”
How administration acts under the plan will give him the information he needs to conduct further revisions.
“We’re trying to find weak spots in the plan.”
Aside from facilitating groups and revamping the response plan, Whorton said he hopes to establish a group at Tech that’s already taken root across the country.
“Another thing we’re doing on campus is starting a CERT team,” he said. “A CERT team is used to fill the gaps where emergency response teams can’t.”
Those gaps include setting up recovery stations, conducting missing person searches and assisting the wounded.
“We’re going to try to have a thirty man and woman CERT team.”
While all of Whorton’s plans are exciting, he said little compares to the feeling of being back home. Whorton, who served as an intelligence analyst in the United States Marine Corps from 2007 to 2012, transferred most of his earned military credits towards an emergency management degree at Tech.
“I wanted to come back to Russellville,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to get my education done, and I looked at a lot of the programs here. I always thought I’m going to get out, look back on this and love every minute of it.”
Upon completing his undergraduate degree, Whorton went on to earn a master’s degree in emergency management.
“Then I get a blank canvas to be an emergency manager for a university that I’m an alum at,” he said. “It’s the perfect position, and it’s in my hometown, so this is the perfect fit for the things I wanted.
“It’s a great campus to be an emergency manager for. There’s this army of men and women that are all right there wanting to do these things. It’s just a matter of bringing it all together and making it uniform.”