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How ServiceMaster DSI Helped a University Recover After Extensive Tornado Damage

ServiceMaster DSI (SMDSI) has been recognized for their extensive disaster recovery efforts after responding to tornado outbreaks all over the country including the 2011 Joplin tornadoes, 2017 Hattiesburg tornado, 2018 July tornadoes, and 2019 Jefferson City tornadoes.

The State of Mississippi is home to exceptionally high levels of tornadoes with 115 reported in 2019 alone. As recently as Easter 2020, a two-mile wide tornado killed 14 people in the region. On average, Mississippi experiences 30 tornadoes per year.

The 2017 Hattiesburg Tornado in particular is one that Southern Mississippi won’t soon forget. This EF3 storm killed four people and injured over 50 others, causing over 15 miles of damage through Mississippi on a path that included William Carey University (WCU).

Damage Assessment

William Carey University (WCU) is a private Christian liberal arts university in Hattiesburg, a city located in southern Mississippi. At the time of the 2017 tornado, WCU’s campus consisted of approximately 50 separate buildings, all of which had damage. Three of the 50 were completely destroyed. The majority of the buildings needed removal and disposal of construction materials; flooring, drywall, ceilings, hard fixtures in various degrees. All buildings were needed to be “safe offed” so that staff and students could remove personal items and remaining items could be cataloged and moved offsite.

The tornado that touched down on WCU’s campus in January 2017 caused enough damage to temporarily shut down campus and injured some students. The buildings on campus that were damaged included:

  • Educational/university classrooms
  • Medical/science labs
  • Dorms/multi-housing units
  • Libraries
  • Office buildings
  • Dining hall
  • Performance hall
  • Sports complex: Baseball, soccer, tennis and basketball
  • Post office

SMDSI’s Action Plan

Facing extensive damage, WCU’s insurance recommended calling ServiceMaster DSI for assistance. SMDSI was onsite within hours of the university’s initial call for assistance and went on to complete three strategic phases of recovery and reconstruction.

  • Phase One: Within 30 days, building contents and occupants were removed and temporarily relocated, along with the WCU administration team.
  • Phase Two: SMDSI provided resources and staff to support reconstruction, including cleaning, moving and safety aspects.
  • Phase Three: Relocated contents and campus staff back to permanent locations after reconstruction with some moving into new, strategically selected temporary locations.

As a result, essential services like the cafeteria were back up and running within days, 47 of 50 all buildings that were not a complete loss after the storm were restored for service, new roofs were put on every building and the academic calendar continued with minimal disruption.

How SMDSI Helped

Because WCU had a set academic schedule, it was key to get over 1,000 students back on campus and into student housing as quickly as possible. Providing seven dorms to house these students and additional classrooms and offices within the first 30 days was a major hurdle that required teams to work around the clock to move out, mitigate and rebuild.

With being onsite within hours of the initial call; significant personnel and equipment resources were mobilized. By using thousands of local labor resources, this allowed SMDSI to achieve maximum manpower while supporting the local community that sustained significant damage.

All buildings were quickly “safe offed” so that staff and students could remove personal items.  Each building had contents documented, packed and moved to offsite storage for mitigation. Then, damage assessments established the scope of work for each building.

The first priority recovery phase needed to be completed within 30 days and included packing out, mitigation, remediation, reconstruction and move back of contents and occupants within 30 days and relocating the WCU administration team to temporary locations. This was all completed within the 30-day time frame.

The second phase included providing resources and staff to support the reconstruction efforts via cleaning, moving and safety aspects. The third phase mainly focused on relocation of contents and campus staff into permanent or temporary locations.


WCU Aerial View After Completion

ServiceMaster DSI specializes in residential and commercial restoration through the ServiceMaster Restore and ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) brands. SMDSI completed mitigation services and move-back services to approximately 47 of the 50 affected buildings. Students were relocated and staff were reset in work areas. Throughout the three-phase process, SMDSI met ALL deadlines set by the client.

“They put new roofs on every building—even some that had no apparent damage,” said Tommy King, WCU president. “They got the cafeteria up and running within days. The tornado hit early Saturday and on Monday, they had 600 ServiceMaster [employees] on campus working two or three shifts, cleaning up. They stayed for six or eight months.”

SMDSI’s global network of equipment, waste, and facility providers allowed quick response and setup to provide fast acting service. SMDSI also established a dedicated team that worked in a building obtained by quickly securing a lease within the immediate area. 

Numerous meetings with key staff and clients, vendors and support teams took place each day to continuously provide real time updates and discuss any challenges. SMDSI’s wealth of competent Project Managers, Assistant Project Managers, Supervisors, and Technicians from Home Office and several locations throughout the country, proved the ability to physically service 50 locations around campus all at once.

All in all, restoration services stayed on schedule and took 205 days from start to finish for 47 buildings.

“Guide One Insurance, GC3 Builders, SMDSI and the WCU Facilities team have put forth a tremendous amount of effort in reviving [WCU],” said Kevin Lewis, chief engineer at WCU.

“I can certainly express my amazement, as well as WCU administration’s appreciation, for this exemplary ongoing recovery.”

Looking forward

After initial cleanup and recovery efforts, WCU moved forward with construction plans on several new buildings. They received an outpouring of support from their community and saw an increase in enrollment instead of the projected decrease after the damage. In 2019, WCU held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Tatum Court, the final project to come from the rebuilding efforts. 

“This level of catastrophic devastation could have ended other universities,” he said Scott Hummel, WCU executive vice president and provost. “Our future only looks brighter.”

All 50 states encounter tornadoes. Establish an updated disaster recovery plan for your business, university or medical campus now with the help of the experienced team at ServiceMaster DSI. Learn more here.


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