From Disaster Rises Grace: Discussing the 2008 Tornado at Union University with Dr. David Dockery


“We were expecting to see some devastation. We were completely unprepared for what we saw. The campus had been leveled, and buildings were falling down. Students were coming out of the dorms dazed, confused, shocked. They were cut and bleeding…” – Dr. David Dockery

Welcome, Dr. David Dockery, to this episode of the podcast! David is a good friend of mine, and I first met him when he was President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and since then, David has served as President of Trinity International University and is currently at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in a number of different roles.

David is a wealth of information, and there is so much that I could talk to him about, but in this episode of Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership, I talk to him about a devastating natural disaster that hit the grounds of Union University while he was President there. On the evening of February 5, 2008, an EF4 tornado ripped through the heart of the Union University campus, causing massive damage to several academic buildings and completely leveling many student housing facilities – a grand total of 45 million dollars worth of damage.

David walks us through where he was when it happened and describes the situation. He reveals that 53 students were injured – nine of whom were critically injured – but that there were, fortunately, no fatalities. He also reflects on how he felt immediately after the tornado hit and how horrifying it was having twelve students trapped underneath a fallen wall for several hours, having no way of knowing if they were all alive.

David also shares what the aftermath was like, both the night of and the weeks that followed. He discusses touching base with the Board, whom he credits as having been instrumental in the university’s incredibly fast rebound, which might have even been record time. The semester resumed in two weeks, and the campus was fully operational again by September! David closes by offering advice both to leaders and board members about what to do to prepare for such a possible disaster. Most of us probably think that these types of things are one-in-a-million and aren’t going to happen to us – that is until it does happen to us and it’s now too late.

I am so grateful to David both for his friendship and his willingness to relive this disaster by sharing the story on the podcast. As I said, it’s so important to be prepared just in case something like this happens, and I hope to have David on again in the future as there is so much that we could talk about! Join me next time, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so that you never miss an episode! I also encourage you to share the podcast with a friend who would also be likely to get something out of it!

“The most important thing that first night was not assessing the damage to the buildings. It was making sure we could account for every student.” – Dr. David Dockery

Time Stamps

[1:11] – Tommy reveals that Dr. David Dockery is this episode’s guest and that the topic is a natural disaster that took place at Union University while David was President there.

[3:13] – David begins to walk us through where he was when the tornado hit the campus.

[6:02] – David describes the situation once the fire department and EMS arrived at the scene.

[7:27] – We learn that Union had 53 students who were injured but fortunately no fatalities.

[9:35] – Twelve students, David explains, were trapped underneath a fallen wall for several hours.

[10:09] – David reveals what it was like touching base with the university’s Board.

[12:27] – One final sweep of the campus at around 2:00 in the morning ensured that no students were left trapped on campus.

[14:38] – We learn how David and the Union team began to assess damage and how to proceed.

[17:00] – David set a goal of resuming the semester in two weeks.

[18:52] – David reveals how much money worth of damage was caused by the tornado.

[20:11] – David explains how Union began to rebuild the leveled buildings.

[22:02] – David discusses the news coverage that followed and how it resulted in their being able to cover the 18 million dollar gap that insurance didn’t cover.

[24:19] – We receive some insight about how the Union leadership team was organized.

[26:24] – Due to a minor tornado in 2002, Union did have an emergency plan in place in case of disasters like this one.

[29:34] – David gives advice to nonprofit leaders regarding disaster preparedness.

[32:10] – David also offers advice to board members.

“…We were still trying to get some of the students out from under that fallen wall. Twelve students were trapped under that, and it took until midnight to get the last one out. That was the most horrifying part of the night was wondering if those students under that trapped wall were going to be alive when we found them.” – Dr. David Dockery

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters – Website

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – Website

International Alliance for Christian Education – Website

David S. Dockery – Christian Leadership Essentials: A Handbook for Managing Christian Organization

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