The night the tornado passed through Chattanooga and surrounding areas, UTC student Jim Boyle was standing outside his house about twenty minutes from Ringgold, Georgia. After he watched a small funnel cloud pass by his neighborhood, he went inside to get ready for the next day’s classes.
But instead of studying for upcoming final exams, Boyle got a call from his mother-in-law twenty minutes later. The funnel cloud he had seen earlier had ravaged the city of Ringgold. Without hesitation, Boyle, a nurse at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, sprang into action and drove to the center of the city.
“It was total destruction,” Boyle said, “The entire city was dark. Trees and power lines were blocking the roads. There was a heavy smell of gasoline in the air. It was devastating.”
Boyle spent most of the night with other volunteers providing water and care to storm victims. He anxiously had to wait until daylight to assist in search and rescue operations.
“I couldn’t get to my brother-in-law’s house by car. I had to crawl over trees and walk to his place to make sure he was okay,” he said.
His experience inspired him to team up with his classmates in the Community Health class to create a windshield survey and presentation about the aftermath of the tornado. The windshield survey got its name because it is often done while the observers sit in a car.
“Our main goal with this project was to assess the community and figure out what their needs and issues are,” Boyle said. “First, we drove through the downtown and main areas of Ringgold video taping damaged buildings and areas from the storm. We also talked to some city officials and gathered data to put into our presentation.”
Dr. Lisa Muirhead, Assistant Professor for the UTC School of Nursing, supervised the project. “For this project, I asked the students to assess the Ringgold community for its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats,” she said. “They had specific criteria to look for, such as safety issues, environmental hazards, and adequate access to healthcare facilities.”
“These students were on fire about it,” Muirhead continued, “It was such a great opportunity to provide up-close visuals for people who only saw the damage on television or in newspapers.”
In the video, taped about a month ago, damage from the storm can still be seen from fallen trees to closed businesses to piles of wreckage.
“Doing this survey really opened my eyes on how strong the Ringgold community is, but also how many challenges the people are facing since the tornado,” Boyle said.
“Despite all the tragedy, the community is trying to pull together,” he continued. “A lot of businesses were undamaged and viable, but they need support and patronage to keep running. Overall, we wanted our project to bring awareness to what a strong community Ringgold, Georgia, really is.”