June 1 brought the second named storm of the year, Barry, signaling the official beginning of the 2007 hurricane season. Meteorologists have once again predicted a high level of tropical activity in the Atlantic, and as always, the state of Florida remains a prime target. Since 2004, seven hurricanes have hit Florida, and four of them have directly affected the Tampa Bay area.
The issue of adequate preparedness is just as important for USF students living around the campus area as it is for those living in mandatory evacuation zones. For those students living in the apartments that surround campus, property managers say they are taking on the emergent responsibility of helping keep tenants safe and prepared for the hurricane season. However, it is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to protect himself/herself and their belongings from an oncoming storm.Most area apartment complexes have policies and procedures in place for its tenants in case of a hurricane.
“At the beginning of hurricane season, we send out a general informative letter to all residents that contains basic information and tips, as well as pertinent emergency contact numbers,” said T.J. Stommel, apartment manager for Boardwalk at Morris Bridge. “Once a storm is named, we send out another letter with information about the storm and its track, along with guidelines that our residents should follow in case the storm threatens our area. We also have our own closed-circuit television channel that can be used to notify residents about a storm’s progress.”
Other area complexes employ similar methods for informing its tenants, including information on how to secure their property and possessions. At Malibu Apartments, a maintenance team is on hand to help tenants prepare for category 2 or higher hurricanes. Someone will also stay on the property during and after the storm to help those who decide to remain in their apartments for the duration.
However, some area apartment managers agree that their residents should take advantage of evacuating – even if the complex is not in a mandatory evacuation zone – to a location that is farther away from an oncoming storm, if they are able to do so.
“In preparation for a major hurricane, we will turn off power as a precautionary measure,” said Debra Romanow, regional director for Malibu. “We are also a seven-story building, which creates wind problems for those living in the higher floors. When Hurricane Frances came in 2004, some of our residents stayed and later regretted their decision. After the power outage, people didn’t have anything do, and the heat only made it worse.”
Another pertinent issue for apartment dwellers is the security of their personal belongings. Apartment complexes do not insure its residents’ personal belongings from the effects of a tropical system – residents must have renters’ insurance to cover them in this case. Boardwalk, for example, requires its tenants to have renters’ insurance. Other complexes, such as Avalon Heights, Campus Club and The Edge, strongly suggest their tenants get renters’ insurance but do not require it.
Kathy Bryan, property manager for Avalon Heights, suggests that students should acquire insurance through their parents if possible, since premiums have risen sharply over the past few years. “So many people think that since they live away from coastal areas, they’re safe from the damaging effects of a hurricane,” Bryan said. “Water damage is still a very real possibility in inland areas. Flooding in ground-level apartments can happen just about anywhere, and high winds can drive water through even the smallest opening in a window, potentially causing damage inside the apartment.”
Apartment managers are unilateral in their agreement that the greatest enemies to hurricane preparedness are ignorance and apathy, saying that they can only provide the impetus to prepare. The rest is up to the residents and how far they are willing to go to keep themselves safe.
“People have to be mentally prepared – they have to be in the right mindset for a hurricane,” says Stommel, who was at Florida State during the 2004 hurricane season. “A lot of students weren’t ready, so they weren’t able to react properly. Some were throwing hurricane parties instead of making last-minute preparations, and their first reaction to the reality of the situation was just shock. All of a sudden, their apartment was flooded and they were just standing there in shock.”
Bryan endured Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and stressed the importance of staying informed during hurricane season.
“Down here, there’s no excuse not to be,” Bryan said. “If you don’t try to get information from all the resources that are out there then you’re neglecting yourself. People think that it just can’t happen here, that we’re always able to dodge bullets. The simple fact is that it can happen. It happened to me in Miami, and it can happen here, too.”