Hurricane preparation pays, especially when it comes with a healthy helping
of good fortune.
Thanks to Ivan’s wide turn west into the central Gulf of Mexico 200 miles
offshore, The University of Tampa escaped its ravages Sept. 15, and those of
Hurricane Frances the previous week, with minimum damage to the campus. There
were little more than doses of anxiety and boredom for the estimated 2,500
students who stayed on campus for the duration of Frances.
Anticipating a direct hit from a category 4 hurricane, the University urged
resident students to leave for Ivan, and many did. Approximately 1,400 remained
on campus. The most fortunate bit of luck was that most of the campus never lost
power through the rain and winds that Tampa experienced; so water pressure,
electrical power, phone service, cell phones, Internet and Web site all operated
without interruption. Much of the rest of Tampa was not that fortunate, as
spotty power outages occurred throughout the Bay area.
While Ivan was the monster, distance made it tamer than Frances in the Bay
During Frances, UT experienced partial loss of power in the library, McKay
residence hall and Res-com housing complex, resulting in the loss of air
conditioning for a brief period.
There were a high number of inquiries on the UT Web, presumably from parents
and relatives who wanted to stay informed on the status of the campus. Most of
the students said that as long as their parents could reach them via cell phone
or e-mail, they were not “too concerned.”
Staff was brought in to provide round-the-clock service so that callers would
have someone to answer their questions.
Students were rather resourceful about entertaining themselves. There were
impromptu slip-and-slide sessions on the lawn, and beach volleyball contests
between the rain showers.
“I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was,” said Rebecca Calix, a
second-semester freshman from Long Island, NY. “It was kind of fun. We ran
around in the rain and played soccer and football.”
For those who wanted to stay dry, the University provided first-run movies in
each residence hall, and in the Vaughn Center’s Reeves Theatre. The McNiff
Fitness Center was staffed by students, and the Martinez gym and weight room
were open. The Spartan club also was opened to provide some diversion with
electronic games, foosball and pool.
“We were determined to stay one step ahead of this storm as best we could,”
said President Ron Vaughn, who serves as head of the core Emergency Operations
Team, which began regular meetings on Wednesday when Hurricane Frances was still
located in the Bahamas.
The team met each day during the weekend, refining its responses, changing
messages on the Web site, issuing global e-mails and voice-mail messages, and
updating the media on emergency planning.
In order to provide uninterrupted services, the core team brought in a number
of staff and their families to stay in University quarters for the duration of
the emergency. President Vaughn and other key Emergency Operations Team members
also slept on campus so that they could continuously check on students and
respond to any emergencies that might arise.
While the wind and rain were bad, they were slight compared to what residents
experienced on the East Coast, and nowhere near what Panhandle residents went
through with Ivan. By the time Frances got to Tampa on Sunday afternoon, Sept.
5, it had been downgraded to tropical storm status with steady winds of about 40
miles per hour and gusts a bit higher.
Rain and possible coastal flooding were the big concerns as the backside of
Frances moved through Tampa early Labor Day morning. A tidal surge of several
feet came up the Hillsborough River, and water lapped into Plant Park and within
10 feet of McKay Hall.
Although no evacuations were ordered, the Emergency Team moved resident
students on the first floor of McKay hall to another residence hall as a
precaution. They were allowed to return to their rooms later that day.
There was a long list of minor damage such as broken windows, leaky window
sills, soaked carpets, broken tree limbs and five downed trees. Of course, the
campus was littered with leaves and other wind-blown debris.
Work crews were out early Tuesday morning after the winds began to subside.
Unexpectedly, a few individual students, and members of Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta
Phi Beta, were out with rakes, brooms and gloves.
“We took a day off from classes, but that doesn’t mean you take a day off
from life,” said Jamal Wilburg, chapter president of Phi Beta Sigma. “We wanted
to help out. It’s our campus, and we want people to see a beautiful place.”
Members of the UT women’s soccer team practiced on Tuesday, and a number of
other teams were gearing up to resume practices. By Wednesday morning when
classes resumed, the campus was back to normal, with repairs made.
“I’m very pleased with the way the campus community, and the students
especially, conducted themselves, throughout this emergency. It could have been
much worse, and I think our community pulled together in a very positive way,”
said President Vaughn.
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