As Hurricane Ian neared Florida, and was projected to head straight for Tampa Bay as a Category 4 storm, USF had to alter its plans, and quickly.
Public universities received updates often enough to notify their students ahead of time and give them time to prepare. While USF excelled in keeping its students up to date, UCF students were left with little time to make preparations or plans to travel to safety.
With hurricane season coming each June through November in the state of Florida, USF should be a prime example in how universities should handle future hurricane disasters.
Gov. Ron DeSantis put a state of emergency into effect Sept. 23 ahead of Ian’s arrival, setting local Floridians into a state of preparation.
Not every public university was as efficient as USF in response to Hurricane Ian. UCF students received a plan of action Sept. 26 — almost a full day after USF, according to a statement released by UCF. Ian made landfall Sept. 27.
UCF could have taken action quicker to cancel classes and delay exams, but instead only canceled classes from Sept. 28 to Sept. 30 in the original Sept. 26 statement. This late response led to students not having enough time to evacuate or prepare for Ian’s arrival.
As of Oct. 2, UCF updated their response to Hurricane Ian by extending class suspension to Oct. 4, according to its website.
In contrast, USF released a Sept. 25 statement canceling classes from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, and closing all campus activities and non-residential buildings. Evacuation orders had been put in place for the St. Pete campus, letting students come to the Tampa campus for shelter before the storm hit.
The heads up allowed USF faculty to help stock up and secure resident halls where students took shelter, according to USF sophomore Emma Ford, who stayed on campus during the hurricane.
“The school was really great with communication and giving us a lot of resources. They put sandbags on some of the first floor doors,” Ford said in a Sept. 29 interview with The Oracle.
“[USF] definitely prioritized the needs of the students by making food and water available at many different locations and times. The communication between all the RAs was really nice.”
Following Ian’s imminent landfall, USF quickly took to alert resident students and teachers alike through the USF Newsroom. The Tampa and St. Pete campuses closed, effective Sept. 27, ensuring students living on campus would have housing if evacuating was not an option.
About 7,400 students live on campus in Tampa and St. Pete, making up nearly 15% of the student body, according to an Aug. 15 USF Newsroom article. For USF to have this quick of a response helped keep students safe.
USF helped resident students through Feed-A-Bull. When Hurricane Ian was scheduled to hit, the food pantry quickly jumped in to help displaced St. Pete students with access to necessities and shelter, a key essential when having to shelter for several days.
Hurricane season is practically an annual occurrence for Florida residents, and to be efficient in helping keep students safe is a key essential for out-of-state students with nowhere to go. For USF to excel over its rival UCF shows that proper communication and efficient planning can go a long way to ensure students’ safety throughout natural disaster events.