Are we ready for a category 5?

Hurricane Wilma, the 21st storm of this year’s busy hurricane season, was a category five storm as of press time Wednesday, possibly making its way towards South Florida by the weekend. According to the National Hurricane Center, Wilma could maintain its force as it crosses over South Florida late Saturday evening. But the question remains: Would UM be ready for a direct hit by a category five hurricane?

According to Alan J. Fish, disaster plan coordinator and vice president of business services, the University has a comprehensive 600 page-long plan which is a guide for any kind of emergency. It has 75 supporting units including food services, facilities and each school or college in the University. The plan is constantly reviewed by a consulting firm.

Fish heads the department that oversees the overall protection of the campus. It is under his supervision that the Crisis Decision Team (CDT), headed by President Donna E. Shalala and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc, decides the action required for any kind of emergency from hurricanes to terrorist attacks and communicates them to the students, faculty and other associated members of the University.

In a hurricane the University is equipped with food for up to five days, with 12,000 meals a day, Fish said. This amount anticipates not only students living on-campus, but commuters, faculty and services employees.

Other supplies on reserve include 10,000 gallons of gasoline, a water well, 45 generators to support power and buses contracted for students to be able to leave after the storm.

Although some students that have stayed on campus during hurricanes have experienced water damage through their windows, a Hurricane Building Assessment in 2001 evaluated that the strength of UM’s buildings against hurricanes is 77 percent. During the time of storms, the University will often implement a mandatory lockdown for students in dorms.

“We feel that it is safer to have our students in our own housing than to put them on the road,” Fish said.

To ensure continued protection of the campus, the University has been granted $7.6 million by Federal Emergency Management Agency to shutter and protect buildings and reduce intangible losses. Allen Hall and the Max Orovitz buildings are examples of the buildings shuttered after acquiring the grant. It is estimated that 23 more buildings will be shuttered by June 2006.

Critical records like financial and student records have safe havens in places like Europe and Canada with emergency phone notification networks where they will be far from the catastrophic effects of hurricanes.

While school may close during the event of a storm, essential employees stay on campus, working before, during or after the hurricane so that things run smoothly.

“The credit goes to all the units putting their plans together,” Fish said.

University urges students to cooperate

Despite the University’s efforts, students should still treat each storm as an emergency situation.

“Students should take Wilma very seriously,” Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, said. “It is a very fast moving storm that has the potential to seriously affect us.”

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at

Jabeen Syed can be contacted at