Hurricane season is here and though many people understand the physical science of natural disasters, they often overlook the social science aspect of it. Understanding the various ways people mobilize when storms arrive could make a world of a difference when it comes to being prepared.
Dr. Graham Tobin, professor of Geography at USF, has dedicated his time to researching the socio-economic impacts of natural disasters.
“Millions are spent on warnings, on time and landfall,” said Tobin. “But warning is of no value unless people respond.”
According to Tobin, the primary issue that USF would face during a devastating hurricane is the strength of the winds. Many of the buildings on campus are comprised of glass windows. It would be almost impossible to board each window up, and taping them doesn’t do any good either, said Tobin.
Since the Tampa campus is located more inland, Tobin says storm surge wouldn’t be a concern. However, the St. Petersburg campus would be at serious risk of water damage if a hard-hitting hurricane made landfall.
“If, when we moved into this area, we all built concrete bunkers, we’d all survive,” said Tobin.
According to Tobin, storms have a tendency to sweep across Florida rather than sit in one spot. If a storm were to sit over USF long enough, flooding could occur. He said there is indication that flooding occurred as far back as 1848 near Riverfront Park. However, structures have changed a lot since then and he is unsure whether the area would still be subject to a flood.
Although Tobin said there isn’t a definite prediction of what this season will be like, as the season progresses, forecasters will get better at determining what is to come.
“We should expect a series of tropical storms,” he said. Current projections are based on estimates of past records. With changes in the global climate, Tobin said this season may be more intense.
Dick Fletcher, Chief Meteorologist at Tampa Bay’s 10, said last season had normal activity even though it appeared mellow because many hurricanes didn’t hit land.
According to Fletcher, this season is predicted to have above normal activity. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center also projects a 75 percent chance that the Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal.
“The big problem is we don’t know exactly where they’ll go,” said Fletcher.
Since meteorologists can’t predict exactly where a hurricane will strike, it is important for people to act immediately when a hurricane is predicted as a potential threat to their community. After volunteering during Hurricane Charley, Tobin has seen firsthand how people can wait too long to have an evacuation plan.
“Choosing our language in terms of response is important,” he said.
The USF Web site provides resources on how to prepare living spaces for on-campus housing, offices and laboratories.
Tobin emphasized the importance of helping out when it comes to the aftermath of devastation.
“We have a moral obligation to get involved,” Tobin said.