SULLIVAN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — After the deadly tornado that tore through Sullivan and other parts of the Wabash Valley on March 31, Vincennes University Homeland Security and Public Safety (HSPS) students have offered their help to the community.

VU’s Homeland Security and Public Safety Program Chair, and retired FBI agent, Lou Caprino, used drone footage to record the damaged areas and shared the findings with FEMA for use in the beginning processes of their assessment. 

As Vincennes’ HSPS majors had helped other communities in need in the past such as those impacted by Hurricane Katrina, Caprino worked to find ways the current HSPS majors could help the Sullivan community in the aftermath of the tornado.

“The students were on board immediately to step up for their fellow Hoosiers. They expressed a strong willingness to assist in the recovery operation in Sullivan. Vincennes University is proud of the young men and women in the Homeland Security program for their dedication to serving the community during times of crisis. Their education and training have prepared them to make a difference and provide assistance to those impacted by disaster,” Caprino said. 

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado crossed over the Wabash River from Illinois and came through Sullivan County that evening. Winds were reported as high as 165 miles per hour, homes, buildings, vehicles, and other structures were severely damaged, and several people lost their lives.   

Students at Vincennes University are working to volunteer in Sullivan throughout the week. Dressed in safety gear, the students have been out in the community lending a hand.  

“Through the adversity, you see a lot of people coming together,” said the Crawfordsville, Indiana, native. “Our entire Homeland program has come together to help these people we don’t even know. Even though it is sad now, it’s nice to see people that have never met each other and don’t have any occupation together come together,” said HSPS junior Eli Switzer.

Working with the Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Pirtle, the students are organizing and moving debris, searching for and keeping personal items safe, including salvageable furniture, electronics, photographs, and jewelry. The students are also working directly with residents who have come back to gather items from their destroyed homes by retrieving the things the homeowners need.

The HSPS students are getting hands-on experience that is integral to the HSPS major curriculum and learning process. 

“The students are representing Vincennes University, their families, and themselves in a highly professional, sensitive, and caring manner,” Caprino said. “I am proud to have the opportunity to watch these future Homeland professionals at work. The students are enthusiastic and eager to make a difference in the lives of those affected by the disaster.”

Additionally, other programs and projects from VU are working to support those impacted by the tornado as well.

For example, the VU Nursing Department is collecting donated items for those impacted. They are accepting non-perishable food items, sports drinks, feminine products, cleaning supplies, paper products, children’s clothing, baby formula, and diapers at the Center for Health Sciences, 27 W. Harrison St. on the Vincennes Campus for those who want to donate.