Student’s weather project aims to keep classmates and neighbors safe, informed

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State senior Tom Bedard has had many homes, including St. Louis, Mo., Portland, Ore., Houston, Texas, New York City, Milford, Conn., and, now, State College.

The meteorology student attributes his love of weather to frequently moving throughout his childhood.

“I got to see the weather in each one of those different states in every area, so tornados in Missouri, and in Oregon, I got to see all the tsunami evacuation signs posted. In Texas, I got to sit through Katrina, Rita and a lot of tropical systems. I also got to see a tornado in New York City, which was wild and terrifying,” he said.

And coming to Penn State? “I got to see the most mundane weather break,” Bedard said. “It’s the State College effect — all the good weather forms just to the east of us.”

But for many students who haven’t had these up close and personal experiences with weather, moving to central Pennsylvania can be an eye-opening transition — something Bedard is working to help ease.

Since May, he has been working with mentors at Penn State Emergency Management and the National Weather Service through a dual internship to create a student preparedness project he calls "Weather-Ready University," a long-term weather-safety educational program.

“The project aims to tackle students’ weather knowledge, their ability to respond and the resources that we use to allow them to respond to an incident of hazardous weather,” Bedard said.

The project has two aspects: to educate incoming students on the types of typical weather conditions seen in the area, and to create a means for students to get helpful information and act during a weather emergency in an instance where traditional assistance could fail.

“We’re trying to give students the ability to respond without being specifically told what to do, so we’re creating more educated adults."

— Penn State senior Tom Bedard, talking about his weather education project

While the project is still in its planning stage, Bedard envisions a smartphone application that uses GPS and can tell students and other Penn State community members where to go, depending on the emergency.

“We’re trying to give students the ability to respond without being specifically told what to do, so we’re creating more educated adults,” he said.

And Bedard is getting others involved along the way.

The Penn State Emergency Management Club, which he helped establish in the fall, is contributing its knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS) to figure out what location on the University Park campus is going to be safest for different types of hazards.

“On top of that, they’re also going to be working on flood mapping for Commonwealth Campuses,” Bedard, the club’s president, said.

He also has gotten two other campus organizations, the Red Cell Analytics Lab (RCAL) and the GIS Coalition, to help with some of the early projects, including hazard mapping for the 2013 Penn State Threat Hazard Identification Risk Assessment.

“We mapped out some of the hazards that Penn State is vulnerable to with the help from both of those clubs and created an entire hazard profile for Penn State,” Bedard said. “Everybody was really excited to do it, and everybody kept the due dates — which is saying something for a bunch of students who are doing something and not getting any sort of pay for it.”

The Student Preparedness Project is one of a few that Bedard worked on throughout his internship, which also included spearheading the University’s renewal of its StormReady certification through the National Weather Service, which requires a renewal every three years.

Bedard’s idea to have a dual internship was the first of its kind for both Penn State Emergency Management and the local National Weather Service office in State College, and it turned out well.

“Tom is the first student we’ve had who has had this real emergency management and weather linkage,” said Peter Jung, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “There’s certainly a lot of different avenues for students, and he is really good at coming up with new ways to reach people.”

The idea came from the marriage of two of Bedard’s interests: weather and emergency response.

During his first semester at Penn State, Bedard connected with the Penn State Emergency Medical Services Association during the fall Involvement Fair and took an emergency medical technician, or EMT, course in the spring.

After becoming an EMT, he worked his way up to being a teaching assistant for the EMT classes, a CPR instructor and then event logistics coordinator for Penn State Emergency Medical Services, which includes organizing equipment for events, such as football and basketball games.

“I would tack onto that creating event action plans, which are operational schedules, and that really started to blend well with then putting a weather forecast into that,” Bedard added.

“Tom is the first student we’ve had who has had this real emergency management and weather linkage. There’s certainly a lot of different avenues for students, and he is really good at coming up with new ways to reach people.”

— Peter Jung, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service

Bedard’s plans were sent to Penn State Emergency Management, where they would be integrated into larger, more expansive plans.

“Once I figured out there was a connection there, I just moved one step up the ladder,” he explained, having contacted Emergency Management and the National Weather Service to propose a dual internship.

Penn State Emergency Management Director Brian Bittner said Bedard was a natural fit.

“All the officers already knew him from being on the ambulance, so he just strolled into the office out of nowhere and fit in immediately,” Bittner said.

Bringing it all together

The Student Preparedness Project is one of many ideas that have been shaped by Bedard’s college experiences and campus and community involvement.

“I’ve got about five different jobs around campus,” he says jokingly.

As one of the Emergency Management Club’s cofounders, Bedarb got members to participate in the first on-campus Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, earlier this semester.

The CERT training class teaches residents the basics of firefighting, EMS, emergency management and disaster response, so they know what to do in the case of an emergency.

In addition to being a host on the Department of Meteorology’s student-produced educational weather television show “Weather or Not,” Bedard also spent a summer powering a Vamos bicycle taxi downtown.

“That seriously taught me communication skills because you’re picking up elderly couples who are going between their car and a restaurant, and you get students, so you get the full range,” he said of his customers. “I was able to talk to a lot of people and bike through some incredible weather.”

Bedard is also in the process of becoming a FEMA-contracted instructor for the University of Hawaii’s National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC).

“The part of the class I specialize in is understanding hurricane science and sub-tropical storm science, as well as encouraging people to work inside of the community to understand the needs and responsibilities of the responders in these disasters,” Bedard said.

After graduation, Bedard would like to work at the NWS or a state emergency management association.

“I’ve had that figured out since I was a kid,” he said.

Last Updated March 03, 2014