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USF prepares for 2009 hurricane season

With hurricane season underway, USF organizations and departments have set procedures for possible emergencies.

The Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) is a “plan for the management of the campus,” said Bruce Benson, assistant vice president of the Division of Public Safety.

Public Safety created the EOP, which was approved by USF President Judy Genshaft and Provost Ralph Wilcox. This is the first year the EOP will officially be implemented on campus.

Florida’s hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Benson said the EOP mirrors that of the National Incident Management System, which is used nationwide to prepare entities with precise hurricane procedures.

Unlike previous campus hurricane plans, the EOP includes an incident command system. In the system, one incident commander and eight managers are assigned to a task area.

Task areas include employee safety, communication, finance, medical and human services and logistics.

Physical Plant will be used as housing quarters for the incident commander and other designated officials during emergency situations.

Benson said the building is built to withstand storms and is equipped with special phones, wired with special Internet lines and includes sleeping bunkers.

“This building will serve as a hub for hunkering down and facilitating information rapidly so all are on same page,” he said.

The EOP is based on a five-day cone prediction. When a hurricane is predicted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be in a five-day range of the Tampa Bay area, USF will activate the EOP.

“The one good thing about hurricanes is that we generally have a lot of notice — FEMA, media and other groups are active in information,” Benson said.

During the five days, officials within the incident command system will analyze the storm and weather patterns and decide how to prepare the University.

Benson said the first action steps are mild, such as determining whether upcoming University events should be canceled. The impact of the steps would increase as the storm draws closer.

In any case, Public Safety and the Department of Housing and Residential Education will react as quickly as possible to prepare everyone for evacuation if needed, Benson said.

“I think we are in good shape, we have good people, well-trained people, and a good plan that ultimately comes down to good decision making and we have people committed to stay here and make those important decisions,” Benson said.

The EOP does not include a specific evacuation plan for residents, but Dorie Paine, director of Housing, said they have their own safety procedures.

“We encourage students to leave campus and be with their families,” she said. “Those
students who do not leave will be evacuated to Pizzo Elementary School by bus.”

Pizzo is located on Fowler Avenue. Tom Cisco, safety and compliance manager for Public Safety, coordinated with the school to designate its Building Four as a shelter for USF faculty and students.

USF contains three structurally sound shelters designated by Hillsborough County Emergency Management, Benson said.

The Sun Dome is a shelter for disabled individuals. The Shriners Hospital, which is located on Pine Drive, is designated for special-needs children, and Pizzo is for all residents of Hillsborough County.

The county provides meals, USF police provide safety and buses provide transportation. Faculty and students are advised to bring pillows and blankets.

Residents are evacuated when a hurricane becomes a Category Three and is heading toward the Tampa Bay area, Paine said.

Paine said residential assistants are not trained by the American Red Cross for hurricane emergencies, but supervisors in the housing department are trained.

Resident assistants are told to wait for instructions from housing officials.

“No, I am not concerned about the upcoming hurricane season,” said Ricky Ayson, a junior majoring in speech language who lives in Residence Hall Holly D. “I would call my parents and look to supervisors for steps on what to do.”

Students can find information about hurricane preparations posted on orange fliers around the residence halls, Paine said.

Benson said everyone needs to become aware of the threats and circumstances surrounding natural hazards such as hurricanes and create a personal plan of action.