USF deals with aftermath of Irma

Despite Hurricane Irma’s expected landfall in Tampa as a Category 4, the USF Tampa campus came out of the storm with minimal physical impact and a questionable academic future.

Aaron Nichols, the assistant director of administrative services, said the most damage the university sustained was some fallen tree branches and building letters along with some mild “water seepage.”

Irma’s Category 1 brush by Tampa had less than the expected impact.

After Irma became a potential threat to the Tampa Bay area, the Critical Incident Planning (CIP) group — that includes about 40 different departments on campus and is responsible for planning emergency responses — stepped in to assess the situation. For Irma, the group kept up with the weather and ultimately started preparing the campus.

Campus preparations included looking for potential flying objects, identifying what around campus needed to be secured, deciding what construction projects need to be paused and reviewing the overall safety of each building. 

Danielle McDonald, dean of students and part of the CIP, is responsible for communicating with students. Her first message to the student body with information on how to prepare for Irma went out Sept. 5 and she sent out subsequent messages regarding school closures and advice for weathering the storm.

“We just kept trying to prepare everybody for what we weren’t really sure was going to happen, which is a talent with hurricanes because of how unpredictable they are,” she said. “Every day it was changing. It wasn’t even going to hit us, it was going to be on the east coast, it was going to go through Orlando and then it started changing again. With every change, we had to adapt.”

In order to be accessible to students and families McDonald remained on campus during the storm with her office serving as a call center. She said most of the phone calls she handled were coming from concerned parents or family members while the students seemed to remain in “good spirits.”

The Tampa campus ended up hosting students and faculty who evacuated from the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses in empty rooms in the residence halls. 

“I think that any time there is some kind of crisis, one of the positives that come out of it is that the community does come together,” she said. “Really, it was the whole system that got brought together as opposed to individual campuses.”

There’s not yet a cost or time estimate for repairs, according to Nichols, but he doesn’t expect the storm to have a lasting impact on campus.

While the physical damage to campus proved to be minimal, professors are now faced with the task of making up a week to a week and a half of course material. 

As professors are adjusting schedules and resetting deadlines for assignments, a team in the provost office is assembling to look over the remainder of the semester.

“They (professors) will find themselves now with a certain amount of material that they would have normally covered during that time,” Dwayne Smith, senior vice provost, said. “The challenge many of them will have to face is how to incorporate that into the course given the time they have left.

“We hope to have information available for the faculty some time next week for some options for adjusting the semester due to the time that we’ve missed.”

According to Smith, everything is still up in the air, but the team will look at adjusting days off and reading days during the semester to compensate for the lost class days. The team includes members from different departments around campus and will have to consider issues, such as what impact this could have on the university’s accreditation requirements.

“There’s just a lot of factors we have to take into account,” he said. “I apologize for the lack of information, but we want to be very careful in working our way through this.”

Damage to the university includes missing letters from buildings such as the Natural & Environmental Science build.