UF and SFCC prepare for the storm season
Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 2:18 p.m.
Under a cloudless blue sky in early May, a group of University of Florida Physical Plant employees draped long, black screening over all the windows at UF's Southwest Recreation and Fitness Center. There was hardly a breeze in the air, and the city hadn't had a drop of rain in days, but all thoughts were focused on a pending hurricane.
Helpful Web sites
In the event of a hurricane, the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College's home pages will be the primary place for information. Here are some useful Web sites to consult:
The screening exercise was just a drill, but in the event of a hurricane this will be how the real thing starts. The recreation center will be the primary shelter for UF students, faculty and staff, and sealing it up with armor screening will be the first order of business.
The screening, which works much like a bullet-proof vest and is tested to sustain 276 mph winds, will cover all of the large windows at the center and take about a day to install. Once the screening is in place, the facility's rear wing has the capacity to serve as a short-term shelter for 230.
UF could expand the shelter area to accommodate as many as 2,300 people if needed, but that hasn't been necessary since it was first used during Hurricane Charley in 2004.
Some UF employees, including counselors and recreation center staff, will help run the shelter, but the American Red Cross will manage it in the event of a storm. Located on Hull Road across from the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the shelter will serve water, drinks, coffee, snacks and meals if needed.
With the 2005 storm season still fresh in mind, and the devastating images of Hurricane Katrina significantly ingrained, UF officials are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
"I think people are paying attention a little more," said Diane James, coordinator of aquatics and risk management. "I hope so."
In the event of a storm, James will be working the first shift at the recreation center just as she did last year. One of the challenges, she says, is explaining to students that the gymnasium they work out in every day has been transformed into something very different. Once it's declared a shelter, the recreation center isn't used for, well, recreation. Exercise machines are off limits, basketball courts are closed, and showers are off-limits. When students came to the facility last year, James recalls their surprise.
"Once they realized the gym was only open for sheltering, they checked themselves out," she said.
For those students who live in on-campus dorms, staying home isn't such a bad option, said Sharon Blansett, assistant director of housing. If power is lost, meals will be delivered by Gator Dining Services, the university's food service provider, Blansett said.
Last year, life went on pretty much as normal in the dorms during hurricanes, Blansett said.
"We weathered the storms very well, and our students were very comfortable," she said.
Santa Fe Community College and UF work together closely during the storm season, said Daryl Johnston, SFCC's chief of police. The two schools, along with the Alachua County School Board, are in regular contact to coordinate decision-making, including when to cancel classes, he said.
In addition to dealing with the student, faculty and staff populations, SFCC officials are preparing to deal with overflow from other parts of the state or the country if necessary, Johnston said. Even though SFCC doesn't operate an on-campus shelter, the severity of last year's hurricane season brought in evacuees seeking academic support and even shelter, he said.
"The lessons learned from the Katrina incident," he said, "is that you may have people show up on your doorstep that you had not anticipated."
Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com
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