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Delayed decision lets USF stay open while other county schools close

When Hillsborough County Schools and the University of Tampa announced last Friday that they would be closed Monday and today due to the threat posed by Hurricane Ivan, USF was put in a difficult position.

Projections at that point had the storm coming directly over or very close to Tampa, with hurricane-force winds expected for all of Hillsborough County. The university delayed its announcement, however, and decided Sunday, after the storm had shifted westward, to remain open.

Shiva Prakash, USF’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said the decision was not an easy one, but that USF made the right call.

“There are a lot of factors that were taken into consideration either way. The important factor was of course the safety of the faculty and the students,” he said. “Another factor taken into consideration was that our students need to finish their courses in a timely fashion. I understand we’ve already lost several days and we did not want to be delaying students’ graduation or any other things.”

USF closed for two days earlier this month when Hurricane Frances tore through the state during Labor Day weekend. School was not in session in August when Hurricane Charley wreaked havoc on the state.

Prakash said USF was in a unique position because of its resident students and faculty research.

“Unlike other universities and schools, we have a lot of resident students that were going to be on campus Monday and Tuesday. Of course we have research that some of the other schools don’t have and it’s not good to have a big gap in some of that research,” he said.

Prakash added that, even though a decision was not reached until Sunday, he and other emergency preparedness personnel were in frequent meetings as the weekend progressed. He said he was in four meetings Friday, and estimated that he had been in an average of six meetings each weekend that a hurricane has posed a threat.

Prakash said all departments at the university have been urged to be considerate of faculty and staff members who had children in the public schools that they needed to be home with or with students and employees still feeling the effects of the earlier storms.