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Breaking News: Hurricane Ian update, Rollins campus to close

Graphic by Trinideé Mercado

Update as of Sept. 28 11:30 a.m.

Rollins College is scheduled to close its campus at 12 noon on Wednesday Sept. 28. This is a change from their original stated closure time of 5 p.m. Sept. 28.

In a statement released by the Rollins Public Information Team at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 27 it was stated that, “[o]ut of an abundance of caution and concern for members of the campus community, we are enacting emergency closure beginning at 12 p.m. Wednesday, September 28, and will close residence halls at this time.”

This change is also effecting dining establishments on campus, all of which will be closed by noon Sept. 28.

The update in campus closure reflects the updated projections of Hurricane Ian’s path and strength. As of 11 a.m. advisory released by the National Hurricane Center, Ian is currently a category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained wind speeds reaching 155 mph, only two mph short of a category 5 hurricane.

Beginning at 10:30 a.m. the Orlando International Airport ceased all operations until further notice. Businesses throughout the Central Florida area are also announcing new and updated closure times as the storm draws closer. Walt Disney World and Universal Studios have both announced closures for their theme parks from Wednesday Sept. 28 through Thursday Sept. 29.

All Publix’s in Orange, Sumter, Citrus, Seminole, Marion, Osceola, and Volusia County will now be closing at noon Sept. 28. As of 11 a.m. 21 Waffle House locations were also reported closed in the state of Florida, an indicator used by both FEMA and many Floridians to measure the severity of an impending storm.

Update as of Sept. 26 4:15 p.m.

Classes are now scheduled to continue amidst the campus closure. Classes from Wednesday Sept. 28 – Friday Sept. 30 will be held asynchronously or virtually pending individual faculty members’ decisions.

While students may remain on campus until Wednesday at 5 p.m. the dining hall will conclude its meal services for the time being beginning on Wednesday Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. and the Fox Lodge store will remain open in Lakeside Neighborhood until 5 p.m.

For students requiring a place to stay during the campus closure the college will be providing transportation to American Cross shelters in Orange County beginning on Wednesday Sept. 28 at 3 p.m.

Additional updates will be added as necessary.

On Monday Sept. 26, Rollins College’s Public Information Team released an official statement on Hurricane Ian that the campus will close at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28. The reopening date is not yet announced as the College plans to remain closed Sept. 29 and 30 in order to assess any damages to the college prior to reopening. 

Classes are still scheduled to occur all of Monday Sept. 26 and Tuesday Sept. 27.  Classes are currently scheduled to be cancelled Wednesday Sept. 28 through Friday Sept. 30. Wednesday classes will be supplemented with a virtual asynchronous lesson.

“Classes are virtual and asynchronous on Wednesday: there will be a lesson you need to make up, but you will not be expected to be on campus,” said Dr. Ashley Kistler, Interim Dean of Academics.

“[W]e know that students have begun traveling and have asked that faculty be flexible and accommodating regarding this week’s classes,” said the Rollins Public Information Team in a statement released to the campus community Monday morning. 

The team plans to release additional information regarding shelter operations in Orange County as more details become available.

Florida State of Emergency  

On Friday Sept. 23, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis initially declared a state of emergency across 24 Florida counties, which was broadened to include the entire state on Saturday Sept. 24. 

A state of emergency is declared when there is an occuring or impending emergency as determined by the state governor. This allows for the allocation of funding for protective measures and potential effects of the emergency.

As of Monday, Sept. 26, forecasters are predicting that Ian could make landfall as a major hurricane, with winds reaching 111 mph or more. A major hurricane is defined as one that is a category three or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

Currently, Hurricane Ian is roughly 100 miles west of Grand Cayman and traveling at 13 miles per hour. It is expected to make landfall in Cuba by Monday evening, and approach Florida’s west coast by Wednesday.

As of Sunday Sept. 25, landfall is estimated to occur along Florida’s gulf coast closer to the panhandle. Projections, however, continued to shift and as of Monday morning the cone of uncertainty covers much of Florida’s west coast and the panhandle.

At time of writing, two other Florida colleges––Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach––have also sent out evacuation orders for their students.

History of Hurricanes at Rollins 

Hurricanes are nothing new to the state of Florida nor the Rollins community. The last time the campus was majorly impacted by a hurricane was in 2019 with Hurricane Dorian

With Hurricane Dorian, it was announced on Aug. 28 that classes were canceled for one day (Sept. 3), with all other campus operations remaining in place. Due to the unpredictable nature of hurricanes, however, students received repeated updates in the following days regarding campus closures, reopening, and general information. 

Ultimately, classes were canceled from Aug. 30 through Sept. 5, with a complete campus closure occurring from Aug. 31 until Sept. 4.

Rollins ended the practice of allowing students, faculty, and staff to shelter on campus during emergency weather situations in 2018 following Hurricane Irma in 2017. During that storm, the college had spent up to $450 thousand dollars to shelter 125 students and 60 staff members. 

Ken Miller, assistant vice president of public safety, previously stated that this change was due to a lack of suitable space rather than being driven by cost. Rollins was advised by the Central Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross and the OrangeCounty Office of Emergency Management to discontinue its use as a shelter. 

As of 2018, students were given at least 72 hours notice to evacuate in the case of a hurricane. Presently, Rollins’ Emergency Operations Plan indicates that the college will provide between 48-72 hours notice should the decision be made to close campus. 

Hurricane Ian Postpones Biden’s Visit

As a result of Hurricane Ian, United States President Joe Biden is no longer visiting Rollins. On Tuesday Sept. 27, he was scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) rally at the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center. 

Rollins was publically named as the location for the rally on Saturday Sept. 24 when event tickets became available. The event was postponed later that same day. 

“Due to storm Ian, we unfortunately have to postpone the grassroots event,” read an email sent to ticket holders Saturday night. “Please stay safe and we will keep you posted as we work to reschedule the event soon.”

The rally was not a Rollins-sponsored event; the DNC was renting the facility and providing their own logistical and support staff.

This would have been President Biden’s first visit to Central Florida and his second trip to the state since becoming president. President Biden last visited Florida in July 2021 to tour the deadly Surfside condominium collapse. Over the summer, he was previously scheduled to attend the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives’s annual conference and speak at a Democratic National Committee event in Tampa, but the trip was canceled after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Rollins has had a long legacy of hosting presidents within its walls. President Barack Obama stopped at Rollins as part of his own grassroots campaign in 2012. Historically, other visiting presidents include Calvin Coolidge (1930), Franklin Roosevelt (1936), Harry Truman (1949), and Ronald Reagan (1976, prior to his 1980 election). 

Alongside President Biden, actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key was scheduled as a special guest of the rally. Additionally, several Democratic candidates and elected officials were expected to be in attendance. 

“There’s so much at stake in the upcoming election, and it’s imperative that we elect Democrats up and down the ballot in November,” read the Florida Democrat’s original event page regarding Tuesday’s now-canceled rally. 

Before visiting campus on Tuesday, he was also expected to speak on Medicare and Social Security in Fort Lauderdale

No details have been released regarding rescheduling, and it is unclear whether Rollins will retain its status as the event venue. Students are encouraged to visit the events page for more information.

Both on and off campus students are encouraged to fill out the Personal Hurricane Plan Form and submit it in their FoxLink Portal.

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