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USF’s emergency information process much improved since Frances

If path projections for Hurricane Ivan hold true, USF can let out a collective sigh of relief. But not only is the news about Ivan’s course change positive, changes implemented in the way in which the university handled the looming crisis and the flow of information were much better than previous instances.

Last week, when USF President Judy Genshaft decided to close the university due to Hurricane Frances’ arrival, the information was buried deep in the school’s Web site. Aside from a small link on the corner of the page, the site remained unchanged even after the decision to close USF was made, and students had to click through several pages in order to find out that classes were canceled.

Students calling a toll-free hotline were told to “check back later,” with no indication about when the decision would be made.

This time, however, the main Web page itself offered all the information students needed: “All campuses of USF will be open for normal operations on Monday, September 13,” read the message next to a satellite image of the hurricane.

More detailed emergency preparedness information was available on other pages, but USF did the responsible thing by putting the most pertinent information front and center.

The message was not only visible without much hassle, it was also posted much earlier than previously.

When Frances ripped through the state with clear aim at the Tampa Bay region, USF made its decision to close the campus Tuesday at about 4 p.m. on Monday. Local media apparently was not informed right away, which further delayed getting the word out to students and faculty.

This Sunday, the university sent an announcement via e-mail to local news agencies before 11:00 a.m., giving students who rely on local news media enough time to become informed.

While we can only hope that we will be spared by possible future hurricanes, it appears USF has learned from past mistakes and was swift in implementing needed changes.