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Preparing for campus disasters

Living in the Sunshine State is not always as easy as the postcards show, especially in the midst of hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season is through the end of November, but there is always a chance a hurricane will occur after this date. Several years have passed since a hurricane or tropical storm has devastated Central Florida—the last ones hitting over 11 years ago were Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. The Campus Safety Office has ways to protect students in case of such dangerous weather and other threatening situations.

Scott Rayburn, the Safety & Emergency Planner of Rollins Campus Safety Office, detailed what Rollins does to protect students from inclement weather. “Florida has active inclement weather throughout the year—heavy rain and thunderstorms are the daily norm, especially during the hot months. Rollins College has several systems and procedures to protect students from inclement weather. The Rollins College Emergency Operations Plan provides guidance for the campus community regarding a large variety of emergency situations. We have a robust emergency notification system–‘RAVE Alerts’–that serves to notify the community via text, voice, and email regarding developing emergencies in and around campus,” he said.

“The Campus Safety department has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed that provide information regarding weather and other emergency situations on the campus. We have several emergency generators that provide power to select buildings in case of a power outage. There are also several National Weather Service radios throughout campus and in the residential halls that provide instant alerts about watches and warnings.”

Over the years, Rollins has improved their safety program to safeguard students from inclement weather. Rayburn talked about the logistics of new plans and structural changes.

“The campus is continually undergoing physical upgrades— ‘hardening’—that serves to mitigate the effects of severe weather. Roofs, drainage, and windows, are surveyed and improved when necessary. Many Rollins College staff members participate in emergency exercises and drills throughout the area and directly on campus. Our Rollins College Marketing and Communications people are particularly adept at handling emergency communications,” he said.

“We take an ‘all-hazards’ approach to emergency preparedness and response, which includes using the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). NIMS and ICS are federally mandated and used by first-responders throughout the country. Staff members at all levels in many departments have taken the on-line training and attended training with local first responders. Additionally, we have established an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on campus to act a base to manage significant emergencies and disasters on campus.”

What are the most important things students should do to prepare for a hurricane or an emergency on campus?

Rayburn offered advice that will allow students them to be prepared for anything.

“I like to tell our staff to play the ‘what if?’ game. What if a storm hit right now? What would I do? What if there was a fire in the building right now? Do I have two ways out? What if someone started shooting nearby? What’s my escape plan? What if a hurricane hits? Where do I go, how will I communicate with my family? By playing the ‘what if?’ game, you slowly develop a sixth sense about your personal safety. Take advantage and familiarize yourself about the systems that are already in place—the Emergency Operations Plan, the Campus Safety Facebook page. You don’t have to dwell and memorize it all—but know that it exists and where to find it.”

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