FAU, state officials always prepared for a hurricane — even if there isn’t one

FAU’s Emergency Management Operations team has plans in place to ensure safety for the community if a hurricane hits.


Photo courtesy of NASA on Unsplash

Paula Chavarro, Contributing Writer

South Florida is always prepared during hurricane season, running emergency operations and training all year round.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Ian makes its way to the state. The storm expects to make landfall by Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and runs until Nov. 30. According to a Sept. 13 article senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman wrote, “Through mid-September, the 2022 hurricane season has been quieter than usual.” 

He said only two of the five named storms formed into hurricanes, which is “about four storms and two hurricanes behind the average pace, according to the National Hurricane Center.”

The lack of hurricanes, however, has not caused FAU and cities across South Florida to relax.


According to Emergency Management Operations Director Jaeson Weber, the department is always prepared. He said February is the first planning cycle for their units, where the first push happens. This consists of starting the new plans for the hurricane season. 

In April, the plans are reviewed. This can involve visiting contracts FAU has such as off-campus housing facilities used as a backup, debris management, and supplies needed for hurricane preparations. The residential memo regarding hurricane procedures for housing can also be accessed on the website.

Once the department has all the preparations done and accounted for, they pass on their information to the President, who has the final say on whether the university stays open or not.

“When it comes to an actual incident that’s going to impact the campus…the President and his VP are the decision-makers and the policymakers,” Weber said. 

Tiphanee Brown-Francis, an emergency management specialist at FAU, shared a few of her duties for the hurricane season. 

“Housing and I get together to do some kind of hurricane preparedness training. The RA’s and housing staff go through training and are given emergency hurricane guides, which are also provided to the students,” said Brown-Francis. The training consists of working through hypothetical situations and evaluating efforts made.

Along with the training FAU’s Emergency Management department offers, there are also planning documents outlining shelters in place or evacuations if needed. According to the department, they are always vigilant and prepared for a hurricane or storm at any second. If anything, they remind the other departments within the university to not relax and revisit their plans, as well as have those conversations.

State Officials

According to Broward County Mayor Michael Udine, emergency operations are running all year. 

“[The county] has an emergency response operation center in the city of Plantation. There are TVs and computers all over with a seat for all municipalities… Every city having a desk and filtering information back to the city,” Udine said. 

Staff are constantly improving plans and updating information and gathering essential items year-round, according to Udine. 

In the Treasure Coast area, Gustavo Vilchez, the emergency operations manager of St. Lucie County, said they are “always working feverishly.” 

They send out newsletters and public service announcements, and constantly upload and update information on their website. They also post informational videos, guides, zone locator maps and information sheets for the county to refer to. 

The county also has links on what to do before, during and after a hurricane. They list resources, such as the NOAA Weather Alert, the FEMA app, St. Lucie Public Safety Alert Program and different kinds of emergency kits for residents to prepare.

According to Vilchez, a comprehensive emergency management plan is followed. The department also provides training, which is based on FEMA’s national incident management system.

The training’s purpose is to gather feedback and incorporate it into the plans for the next year. Though some people are tested on the knowledge they acquired, Vilchez believes “if we don’t test the people, we test the plans.” Not every single person’s knowledge can be tested for readiness, but the plans will always be able to.

Vilchez said the county also has an exercise evaluation program through FEMA, which looks at the level of knowledge an emergency operations center has for certain plans. They take it by levels, beginning with a softer approach to an exercise, to higher levels. The county is also invited to attend yearly statewide exercises.

When asked if schools work closely with the county, Vilchez responded, “The answer is a definitive yes. Schools are very open to working with the county.”

Chapter 252, under the state of Florida, covers all emergency management actions.

“All public schools’ entities must work with counties emergency management, providing sheltering space and other necessities,” Vilchez said regarding the chapter. “The school district provides food and water for shelters, and has contracts already established with vendors, as part of the preparation.”

A severe weather plan and timeline of actions also need to be made five days as soon as informational news presents a storm, to the moment the impact of the storm occurs. 

Jose Monzon, St. Lucie County School’s building automation specialist, supported the statement Vilchez made on how St. Lucie County schools work very closely with county officials. 

“All schools have emergency generators. Two schools [Samuel S. Gaines Academy and Fort Pierce Central High School] are used as permanent shelters. Most of them they can use for temporary shelter,” said Monzon. 

The generators were installed into the schools when they were built, so they’re always prepared in case of loss of power. The generators also ensure that food is kept intact since it keeps the fridge running.

According to Monzon, maintenance is done before the season starts. Mechanics check on the emergency chillers, which are used to keep the desired temperature at a constant level. They check the valves and see if the equipment will run on schedule.

Technology allows schools to be more prepared. If the air conditioner or chillers go down, Monzon could access it from home through the program corresponding to the specific system the A.C or chiller runs with and fix any issues.

As storms begin to pick up in the Atlantic, institutions and county officials will continue to test the quality of preparations, training and information given, to ensure the safety of South Florida residents.

Paula Chavarro is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].