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Campus Hurricane Preparation 101

Discussing and planning for hurricanes is not a seasonal affair in the state of Florida. Legislators, administrators and meteorologists alike constantly observe existing protocols and evaluate the current response system to make sure everyone is prepared for the worst.

At USF, the University has dedicated the Web site, to the monitoring and operating of hurricane protocol, making sure students and faculty know they are prepared for whatever Mother Nature decides to conjure up between June and November.

For Director of Residence Services Thomas Kane, discussions about the safety of residents during hurricane season takes place twice a year when the University invites the Florida Housing Officers.

“It’s one of the main topics when they come to visit,” Kane said. Kane said the University monitors hurricanes from the day they form off of Florida’s coasts, evaluating their potential to hit the Bay area. On the fifth day out, the University watches the cone projection to see if the storm will hit Florida and from which coast.

If the storm looks as though it is going to head up the Gulf of Mexico, Kane said the resident assistants will place orange sheets of paper on the dormitory doors directing students to turn on their televisions and start watching the storm activity.

University spokesman Ken Gullette said the decision to close the campus comes directly from President Judy Genshaft and depends on the trajectory of the storm. Whether or not the University would send out an alert through the MoBull service – offered free to students – would depend on whether the storm was going to be a direct hit, said Gullette.

Each day the University will place a new, different-colored sheet of paper on the dorm doors. Kane said if the storm is a category 3 or higher and is projected to hit Bay area, the University will typically close.

“I would say about 90 percent of our students live four hours away or less,” Kane said. “Most of their parents will be saying for them to come home, and if the storm is going to hit, we want to get them home.”

While the flyers are the primary way for the resident services to communicate with the students living in the dorms, Kane said the best thing for students to do is be aware of the storm activity by reading the papers or watching the news.

“We have the most connected generation, yet not enough of them read papers or watch the news,” Kane said.

Out-of-state students are encouraged to seek shelter nearby with friends or family nearby if possible. Kane said if a student is unable to find a place to stay, an RA will meet with the student and get his or her contact information in order to get that student on a shuttle bus and evacuated to the nearest shelter. Pizzo Elementary is the closest evacuation shelter in the area, according to the Hillsborough County Web site.

Assistant Director for UP Maj. John Withrow said the department goes into an all-hands operation and sets up 24-hour shifts with its patrol officers during a hurricane. One persistent problem the officers run into involves hurricane parties.

“Intoxication is one thing, but intoxication with a hurricane is a larger problem,” Withrow said. “It is something the local establishments promote with their drink. People should heed the advice of professionals. If you have a place to be other than here, we want you to go.”

The buildings around campus are observed by the Physical Plant and will receive structural modifications to prevent flooding. Siva Prakash, associate director for the Physical Plant and the USF Emergency Preparedness coordinator, said the University has a list of items it documents before the hurricane season. Besides making sure there are enough sandbags to place around doors, Prakash said the Physical Plant checks the status of the flood pumps, fuel supply and generators.

“We do a lot of prior planning generally so that when we go through our purchasing procedures, there aren’t any hurried buys,” Prakash said.

Being aware and prepared for what may come is a pertinent issue that Kane said students should understand and anticipate.”Students need to realize that they’re adults and when they come here they are on their own,” Kane said. “Where are you going? Have a plan in mind.”