In recent years, the warnings that accompanied the start of hurricane season had a perfunctory feel. But with parts of Florida still recovering from last year’s devastation, today marks the beginning of one of the most stressful times for Floridians.
Last year, Florida was uncharacteristically struck by four hurricanes in one of the most damaging hurricane seasons on record. With hurricane season starting today, USF and other institutions are gearing up for whatever the season will bring, a key part being how to communicate with students, faculty and staff in the aftermath of a hurricane.
“We use three ways to alert students,” said Michelle Carlyon, director of media relations at USF. “Our office deals with the media. We contact local television and radio media. To find out news on campus we have the 1-800 number. We also update the USF home page. We would like to get an e-mail notification system to faculty and staff, but if you don’t have electricity then you can’t access your e-mail. The three ways mentioned are the best ways of alerting students and faculty.”
USF did not close in the aftermath of Hurricane Jeanne, a fact that dismayed some students who left Tampa to be with their families. Carlyon said there is much that goes on behind the scenes that require certain parts of the campus to stay operative.
“People think it’s cut and dry but it’s still complicated,” Carlyon said. “Students live on campus, the Student Health Center is there to provide assistance, and certain labs stay open on campus. We try our best to inform (the students) as soon as possible. Hurricane tracks can change so we will do our best to notify in time. There are circumstances on whether we close or not.”
School was open for business following Jeanne, and many tests that were scheduled were not postponed.
“We lost power for 10 days,” Poorita Sigh, a marketing major, said. “We had water, but we didn’t do anything to prepare. I think classes should have been canceled. I had tests that week and couldn’t study because I didn’t have power. If there is a hurricane over the weekend and there are tests scheduled, we should postpone those tests.”
The process of tracking a hurricane is not an exact science. A hurricane can shift paths at any moment, drastically changing tracking patterns and evacuation zones.
“It is predicted that we will have about 15 tropical storms (this) year,” said Carl Carlucci, USF executive vice president. “We don’t know how many will come close to Tampa. As they get closer, we track them again and we’ll continue to watch them. If there is a prediction that it will come through Tampa then we begin our preparations.”
Four named storms hit Florida in 2004, beginning with Charley, a Category 4 storm that rocked Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte before making its way across central Florida with wind gusts up to 140 miles per hour.
Floridians had little time to recover before Frances, a Category 2 storm, hit Florida over Labor Day weekend. Frances was followed by Ivan, the most powerful of the storms, which hit the Panhandle with torrential rains and wind gusts reaching up to 165 miles per hour. Ivan did most of its damage in Alabama, but one of the bands from the storm hit Pensacola hard, causing extensive damage.
According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, one out of every five Floridians’ homes had some degree of home damage from the four storms. There have been more than 1.5 million insurance claims and more than 10,000 FEMA-provided trailer homes are still occupied by victims of last year’s hurricanes.
Thousands in the Tampa Bay area experienced flooding and loss of power due to Hurricane Jeanne. Areas of Fowler Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard were shut down after Jeanne passed through the region.
The Bay Area was lucky not to take damage from a storm surge, which would have most likely happened had the storm come from the Gulf of Mexico.
During past times of crisis, the Sun Dome has been used as an emergency shelter.
“Designation of a shelter is done by county,” Carlucci said. “The Sun Dome has been used as an emergency center. It is done by population type and in the past it has been a shelter for special needs.”
Prior to the season’s beginning, a tropical storm was reported in the Atlantic.
“I really think (Floridians) will look at it more cautiously,” Kelly Patel, a finance major, said. “They will take it more seriously now that we’ve had so many hit us.”