USF’s emergency information system needs improvement

The USF community weathered Hurricane Frances quite well, but one aspect of emergency preparation that needs improvement is the flow of information.

If and when classes are canceled, the task of informing USF students in a timely fashion can be quite daunting.

It is doubtful that it is even possible to contact all students individually. The school nevertheless tried to send an email to every individual student through their USF account when Friday’s classes were canceled. Most students did not get the messages in a timely fashion, though, as many have their messages forwarded to a different account, a process that often seems to take several hours and in some instances days. Cancelation of Tuesday’s classes was apparently not announced in this way.

The USF Web site also needs some tweaking. Class cancelations should be apparent by viewing USF’s main page. Students should not have to click through several pages just to be informed to “check back later.” During a hurricane, Web connections are usually unstable, so there is no need to complicate the matter.

Naturally, such means of communication do not help students, no matter how well executed they are, if a power outage hits the area. This is why USF operated a telephone hotline. But when students are repeatedly told to call back at a later time, it can hardly be called a “hot”-line.

The main problem seemed to be that USF officials waited until very late in the day to make the decision if classes were to be canceled or not. By the time the decision was made, most other Tampa Bay schools, be they other universities, community colleges or high, middle and elementary schools, had already made their decisions.

By waiting this long, local media did not get enough time to incorporate it into TV and radio newscasts. Those sitting in dark apartments listening to battery-operated radios were informed that other schools would remain closed but remained wondering about USF’s status.

With Hurricane Ivan heading in USF’s general direction, changes to the system should be implemented sooner rather than later. If Ivan should hit the Tampa Bay region, students and faculty members should not have to play a guessing game. By then they will likely have more important matters on their mind.