Prior to Hurricane Irma, our blog talked about hurricanes that had impacted Florida. It had been twelve years since a major hurricane in the state. Hurricane Irma will be remembered not only for its strength but for its impact on the entire state of Florida causing damage and destruction on both the east and west coast. I live in South Florida where the hurricane was forecasted to take a direct hit on the Thursday prior to its Saturday landfall. And as a resident for over 25 years, I felt anxious, worried and concerned as meteorologists threw out words such as catastrophic. You could see it in their facial expressions and hear it in their voices as they described the latest track.
I had planned to be at Parent’s Weekend, like many of you, that weekend. When I first realized I wasn’t going to be able to attend, because I couldn’t leave my dog with a sitter and my house all shuttered up, I also worried about what the best place for my daughter was. I didn’t want her driving down south into what looked to be the heart of the storm, even if that is where I was staying. Then they moved the football game to Friday night. Then they canceled everything and began evacuations. Things kept changing.
I am happy to say that my daughter remained calm throughout all the indecision and change of plans as the hurricane made twists and turns and UCF kept altering plans accordingly. My home became a shelter for nine people and four dogs. My daughter, who lives in the Tower (where I wanted her to stay, but she understandably didn’t want to be alone) went to a friend’s apartment off-campus. I called the apartment complex to be sure they had hurricane impact windows and you will be happy to know that most complexes that the students live in off-campus at UCF are fairly new and do have hurricane impact windows. She and her friends lost power but were safe. The Tower, however, never even lost power. (And not once did I remind her afterward when she was finally able to get back to her dorm and take a shower that “Mother knows best.”)
In the midst of all the preparations, I tried to find just the right amount of urgency in my texts and responses to her questions so as to not scare her too much, but to take planning seriously. The last hurricane she recalled, she slept in a windowless hallway in our house and only remembers the fun parts. I think she was about seven. I encouraged her to get supplies and for those things she couldn’t find already in the stores, I had them sent overnight via Amazon (flashlight, batteries, and battery-operated candles). They arrived late Thursday. She found water at a gas station since Publix was already out by Tuesday and filled her car with gas and parked it on the second floor of the garage (in case of flooding on the ground floor.) She filled her pantry with dry goods and felt prepared.
UCF has taken a lot of criticism from parents who felt there were too many plan changes, but the truth is, Irma couldn’t make up her mind and they tried to do whatever was going to be the safest option for our kids. Once they had closed, the only residential buildings open were the Towers. Students then left school in a hurry. There were options for shelters, but most students seemed to leave town. Some flew; others drove, which was risky in itself as gas became a rare commodity and highways were virtually at a standstill. I know not everyone will agree, but I think that UCF did a good job of alerting the students about shelters, what to do, where to go, how to stay safe and so on. I was actually pretty impressed with how quickly I was getting information too. And after the storm, when parents began to complain that they couldn’t get their students back to school by Thursday’s start date; UCF listened and extended until Monday. Did they do things wrong? Probably, but most of us can look back and come up with many things they would have done differently too.
There is no judgment whatsoever if you had your student return home or fly out of Florida. We all make decisions that work best for our own family. UCF has stated repeatedly, and notified their staff, to be flexible when it comes to homework, assignments and so forth. They have shared with all students, and parents signed up to receive this information, places they can get help if they need it. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for emails and perhaps get into a Facebook group for UCF parents. Someone there always knows the answer.
If you were to ask my daughter or our interns how they felt UCF did, most would tell you that the alerts were being sent to all students as changes were made. They understand that even the best meteorologists could not, with 100% accuracy, predict where this storm would hit and that UCF did a good job of keeping them informed. What happens now that school is starting on September 18th is anyone’s guess, but they are hoping that UCF will be flexible especially since there are students living off-campus that still do not have power. Additional information on UCF’s storm preparedness can be found below (go ahead and bookmark them in advance)
University of Central Florida Web pages:
UCF Emergency Hotline
Follow UCF on Twitter or Facebook
National Weather Service Briefing Updates