The wrong decision?
We will always remember faux pas from our Alma Mater, but Thursday’s bungled decision by the Crisis Decision Team (CDT) will forever be known to me in my five years at UM as the absolute worst yet.
Let me paint a picture for you: winds blowing at tropical storm force speeds, flash flooding reaching half a foot in the parking lots, tree limbs down all over the roads surrounding campus and more than three inches of rain falling per hour-all before 6:00 p.m., meaning thousands of students were still expected to attend classes. During the early morning hours of Thursday, the entire South Florida area was placed under a hurricane warning; this is not trivial, it means that hurricane force winds are expected within the next 24 hours. But regardless of this fact, the CDT decided that it was still appropriate for students to be traveling on the roads of the greater Miami area, a place being battered by winds and a place where the eye of the storm would pass in no more than three hours. Leaving campus-before the official close time of 6 p.m., mind you-I was battered by squall lines with gusts surpassing hurricane force, surrounded by lightning, wading through ankle-deep water, nd soaked by rain striking nearly horizontally; but of course to the CDT, this is all to be expected, right?
I remember Hurricane Frances last year. This was a storm whose destiny was to confront the University nearly head-on. I remember boarding my windows, sandbagging my doors and officially powering down WVUM and rebroadcasting the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration advisory for all of the concerned community members. As it turns out, these precautions were not needed, as the storm changed course at the last moment and missed us. However, that does not mean that these precautions were taken in vain. When dealing with life and property, any precaution against a system as volatile and dynamic as a hurricane is to be measured and calculated conservatively.
This precautionary philosophy was abandoned by the CDT for Hurricane Katrina. The team saw a hurricane warning and worsening conditions at school, and instead of taking a conservative estimate to protect the well-being of students, it relied too heavily on the unpredictable forecasts from the local weathermen. Well, the National Hurricane Center doesn’t give a cone of unpredictability for nothing! The forecasters are aware, more so than the decision makers at UM, that hurricanes do in fact buck trends and change course from time to time.
It seems as though this would have been a lesson learned from recent hurricanes, such as Frances, which changed course, and Charley, which changed course and even from historic ones such as Andrew, which (need I spell it out?) changed course. Well, this time the CDT decided that it would ignore the hurricane warning issued for Coral Gables and cast the students’ fate to the wind, in a not-so-figurative sense.
Fortunately, at the time of the writing of this letter, no students, faculty or staff were reported injured. But I hope that this storm serves as a reminder to the CDT that when dealing with the cherished lives of students and faculty, it is always better to err on the side of caution, especially in the face of a hurricane warning, no matter the predictions of the local forecasters. Remember: nobody suffers from a false hurricane day, but the same can not necessarily be said for the opposite.
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