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USF readies itself for the 2006 hurricane season

Today is zero hour for many across Florida and the Southeastern United States, as June 1 marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. In the wake of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, looking at past experiences seems best when preparing for a natural disaster.

The weight of hurricane damages past can also be a motivating factor, especially for USF, which spent an estimated total of $4,644,750 during the past two hurricane seasons in total damage/preventative measures/cleanup, according to a report from Administrative Services.

To determine the best way to prepare, USF is looking at other universities that have been through massive hurricanes, said Trudie Frecker, associate vice president of Administrative Services.

“We’ve paid a lot of attention,” Frecker said. “There have been some Webcasts shared with the universities across the nation as a result of the New Orleans experiences and what they’ve learned. We learned from West Florida when they were hit by Ivan. We’ve learned from several as far back as Andrew (which) damaged FIU rather significantly.”

But pre-storm planning can only take an institution so far, Frecker said, and it is the post-storm planning that is one of the most crucial aspects of dealing with a storm’s aftermath.

“You can plan up to a certain point, and then you have to wait until the aftermath,” Frecker said. “What we’ve learned in the last couple of years is that people have had the planning up front pretty well down. What they didn’t have was the aftermath. Most plans assumed you’d be back in business. What we learned from the ’05 season is that it took months to get back in business.”

To effectively pre-plan and deal with the aftermath, the USF emergency preparations team has created a Hurricane Preparation Protocol outline, which closely follows the National Hurricane Center’s 5-day cone.

The HPP outlines a “to-do list” of preparations that need to be carried out during the five days leading up to the storm, the day of landfall and the days after. Frecker said that each individual department each has a more detailed, department-specific list.

For example, the Physical Plant is responsible for the securing of educational, support and research facilities and the grounds that surround them, said Physical Plant Associate Director Siva Prakash, who is also the University’s emergency preparations coordinator.

“We anchor those things that are loose that can blow in the wind or bring them into a location where they can be protected from the wind,” Prakash said. “If it’s very close to a hurricane, we put down sandbags by the side of the doors of selected buildings so the water won’t go into the building.”

During a storm, USF’s commitment to keep the University running in some capacity will remain steadfast, as six new backup generators designated to power research and science buildings will be in place and monitored by the Physical Plant. These generators go above and beyond fire codes and are able to power lights and anything plugged into the outlets, but not air conditioning, Prakash said.

“Some of the researchers have spent a long time on (their research) and they don’t want to lose the experiment,” he said.

In the event that a massive storm is imminent, getting resident students off campus and back to their homes or to another shelter is the goal, said Mike Klingebiel, University Police’s public information officer.

“If we have enough time to where we can close the University and get those who can be with their families or to shelters,” he said, “that is a better scenario than keeping everyone on the campus. Five thousand people to try to take care of is a huge task.”

However, in the event that there are students that are not able to evacuate, they will be provided food and shelter for as long as the University’s resources will allow, Klingebiel said.

Representatives from different departments on campus will meet again in July for a more serious meeting as USF gets deeper into hurricane season, Frecker said.

“Other than that, it’s just crossing our fingers and hoping we don’t get hit,” she said. “We’d like for all this to be for nothing.”