Preparation Key to Hurricane Recovery

BY CAROL PROBSTFELD SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY SEP 23, 2017

Our students are back on campus and normal routines have returned to the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, after Hurricane Irma. While it is great to move forward, it is important to take a look back and reflect on the things that allowed us to recover quickly. The lessons learned in preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Irma for a college can also be applied to our daily lives.

Classes at all three campuses resumed Sept. 18, but staff and faculty returned to work Sept. 15 to revise academic schedules and test equipment in preparation for our students’ return. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our facilities team members who worked tirelessly to clear up downed trees and debris, each campus was quickly returned to a safe environment for students and employees. A quick recovery is also due in large part to our annual preparation for hurricane season.

Our region has been spared the “big one” for many years. Tropical storms and hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida, however, and there are numerous steps we take every year to prepare for the June to November season. We make sure trees are kept trimmed and gutters and storm drains are cleared. We also ensure that all the supplies needed for a hurricane—sand bags, fuel, etc.—are on-hand before the season starts. Contracts are always in place to bring in the resources required to assist in clean up and repairs.

Planning and communications were also critical before, during and after the storm. SCF’s Critical Incident Management Team began to meet when Irma was still well out in the Atlantic Ocean to discuss storm preparations, communications with students, faculty and staff, and contingencies if the college had to close. We were in constant contact with local and state officials to ensure we were in concert with community and statewide actions. On a conference call with Florida’s college presidents, Gov. Rick Scott encouraged us to make our decisions early to give everyone the most time possible to prepare.

The closing date we selected took into account giving students and employees time to prepare their houses for the hurricane and families for evacuation or riding out the storm. Each individual had to make the decision that was best for them—as a college, we had to responsibly close to allow everyone the time to safely carry out their plan.

As I visited with staff and faculty on their first day back it was a relief to know that everyone had come through the storm in good shape and that our campuses were safe for students to return. Our department leadership did a fantastic job checking on our employees and accounting for everyone through evacuations and power loss. It was encouraging to see that we were prepared to get back to our mission of educating students. Every academic department I visited already had a plan in place to help students get back on track on the following Monday.

Hurricane season is with us every year, and we will never overlook the potential impacts. We plan and prepare each year to ensure our campuses are prepared, and we translate those lessons to our homes. As we move on from Irma, and hopefully avoid any other massive storms this season, I encourage you to remember to lessons you learned and to put your plan in place before the next hurricane arrives.

Dr. Carol Probstfeld is president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

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