Putting out the flames: an update on the Scott fire


The University of Nebraska at Omaha and surrounding community have spent the last week helping students recover from the fire on Scott Campus. Over a short amount of time, UNO staff and the community has made progress in helping students.
Building G took a lot of damage from the fire, as most of the third floor and the roof were completely lost. The first and second floors also had damage, but less severe than that of the third floor. Most of the damage on the first two floors was water damage from the fire hoses and sprinkler system. The total value of the damage is still being assessed. Although the decision has not yet been made, the building will be either completely torn down and rebuilt, or will be repaired, depending on the amount of salvageable parts.
“University facilities officials, Scott residential management staff, city officials and insurance adjustors are still assessing the plan moving forward,” said Bill Pickett, director of university housing.
New housing for students of Building G
While many students were able to retrieve some of their things from the building, the building is unlivable. Some displaced students chose to move home and live with their parents, and other students were provided housing in other Scott Village buildings within the first 24 hours. The Red Cross also provided help within the first 24 hours. Scott Village provided linens for students who moved to different buildings and many gift cards were donated, which allowed each student $100 to buy necessities. Affected students have been able to get food and toiletries from the Maverick Food Pantry located in MBSC and have also been able to borrow loaner computers from UNO IT Services. The bookstore opened at 7 a.m. on the day after the fire so that textbooks could be replaced immediately.
Within the first 48 hours after the fire, Vice-Chancellor Rita Henry was appointed as a point person to help students with their needs. Henry is working with donations that come in through sources and is also working with students. She has been holding individual meetings with each student who was affected by the fire. During these meetings, they have the chance to discuss their immediate needs and discuss their insurance plans. Students who do not have any form of insurance can then make a list of all the items they lost. One role that Henry has is to try to get their items replaced. Money from the newly established Nebraska University Foundation account will go to help students who did not have insurance.
Constant communication with students
One priority for UNO is helping the students who were affected by the fire is to keep in constant communication.
“I think we’ve tried to over-communicate. I could see it at a point in time that students might get tired of hearing from us,” said Dan Shipp, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “But I want that to be the case as opposed to–sometimes with larger emergency responses, after the crisis, people go away. But we don’t want that to happen here.”
In light of the fire, many students were left wondering if their housing, tuition and fees will increase next year to cover the cost. Students are assured that this is will not happen.
“None of that is being considered,” Shipp said. “That building was insured, so insurance will cover the cost of replacement of that building through no charges to students.”
Picket debunked the myth of rising costs.
“A fire in campus housing does not have anything to do with overall costs going up,” Pickett said. “This building [Scott Village Building G] is owned by the institution, and the institutional insurance policy will assist with rebuilding or repairing the building and items owned by UNO.”
Investigation begins for smoker
Many students have asked what will happen to the person who caused the fire.
“Because it was judged to be accidental, it will be a conduct issue. We’ve already engaged our conduct process where we investigate who was responsible and what sanctions will be appropriate,” Shipp said.
Since the case is a student conduct issue, the cases will be kept private and protected.
“Any student found in violation will be held to the policy and any sanctions from housing and/or student conduct,” Pickett said.
The issue of the Smoke-Free UNO campaign has also been a controversial topic—especially in the aftermath of the Scott fire. Shipp said that even if the policy had been in place it might end up being more like a speed limit.
“Even if we had that in place, I don’t know that it would have prevented this situation,” Shipp said.
Talking about the Smoke-Free campaign can also serve as a learning opportunity to students during this time.
“I think it’s a great discussion for students to have, and I appreciate the way they’re doing it because they’re wanting to include faculty and staff in that conversation,” Shipp said.
Housing policies are likely to remain the same in the aftermath of the fire.
“We will continue to educate students about the policies, specifically fire safety and encourage students to report any situation they see or hear about that might be a violation of policy,” Pickett said. “Living on-campus means that you’re living in a community where everyone has to help each other out and hold individuals accountable. We will continue to educate them that this is the best approach to help keep the community safe.”
Support for students continues
Throughout the entire process, the UNO community and surrounding Omaha community have been extremely supportive. The NU Foundation account has already received around $6,000 in donations. During the aftermath of the fire, Werner Enterprises also donated over 30 boxes of food, toiletries and clothes. Pickett, who is working with donation efforts, has received hundreds of calls and emails offering free meals, gift cards and even free movies. Sister schools UNK, UNL and UNMC have also reached out to help students who were affected by the fire.
“We’re very lucky to have such a caring campus, city and state family,” Pickett said.
Most of students’ immediate needs have been taken care of and focus has been shifted to long-term care. However, one thing students can do to be involved is to be mindful about policies on campus. Students who see policies being violated are encouraged to report it. Shipp advises that the experience be seen as a lesson that students can now learn from.
For anyone who wants to help, food and toiletries can be donated at the Maverick Food Pantry in MBSC. For monetary donations, visit nufoundatoin.org.
“I’ve been impressed,” Shipp said. “I really think that it’s a real distinguishing feature to be a student here because you’re more than just a student at a university—you’re a citizen of a city that the university has this really great partnership with. You’re part of a bigger family.”