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Confronting Isabel

Common sense says run. Hurricane Isabel, the tropical beast that is brewing and barreling its way toward the Caribbean, has now reached Category 5 status.

But USF professor George Buck isn’t running. He and a Ph.D. student Erin Hughley are traveling this weekend to the Bahamas, which is comprised of a series of islands from which most inhabitants can’t flee. They are slotted to leave Saturday, though the plans could change with the path of the storm.

Buck, an associate professor who teaches disaster management and terrorism courses, said they will be assisting Bahamian national emergency management.

“It’s their disaster. It’s their plan. We’re just there to support them,” he said Thursday night.

Is Buck scared at the prospect of having to endure a Category 5 storm? No. He’s survived a “high 3, low 4” before, he said.

Hughley isn’t scared either. She was working for the Red Cross when Hurricane Floyd smacked into the East Coast four years ago. She went to Georgia and the Carolinas to help them clean up the storm’s aftermath.

And while the Bahamas may seem like the last place you’d want to be for the storm, Hughley said the nature of construction there makes it safer than most places here.

“On the islands, unlike the U.S, it’s very different. When you’re in Florida and you have a hurricane bearing down on you, you run inland,” she said. “On the island, there are buildings that are specifically built to withstand hurricanes.”.

The two will be setting up shop in downtown Nassau in a three-story government building where they will work with disaster management officials with whom they have been collaborating for more than a year now. In fact, most of the important work in preparing for a hurricane is already done.

“A lot of our tools are already in place,” Hughley said.

Having knowledge of the community, such as what areas are prone to flooding, is half the battle when responding to a hurricane, she said.

Buck said helping an island recover from a disaster, however, can still be tricky.

Because it is often difficult to transport goods to an island, it is important that officials don’t order superfluous materials, he said.

To ensure just that, Buck will be equipped with a computer with access to a Local Area Network that will allow him to upload data and pictures instantaneously.

But hurricanes can be unpredictable. Buck concedes that while the trip is noble in nature, a slight deviation of the storm’s path could turn the trip into a small vacation.

“We could get out there and the hurricane could take a turn to the north, and we’ll have a nice few days in the Bahamas,” Buck said. “Or we could get out there, and the hurricane will stay on the same track, and we’ll have a nice few wet days in the Bahamas.”