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Staff Editorial: Is USF Ready for the Big One?

The Foghorn staff weighs in on emergency protocol on campus.

After news broke last Monday night that an explosion had occurred on the UC Berkeley campus following a copper wire theft from the university’s underground electrical network, a question arose among the Foghorn staff members: what would happen if something similar happened at USF?

Just a month and a half since the beginning of the fall term, and there has already been four campus alarm systems that have gone off — two in the University Center and two in Phelan Hall. Both alarms prompted full student and faculty evacuations from both sites. Although all four instances proved to be false alarms, and no emergency situation was listed as cause, the pertinent issue at hand is the manner in which such emergency and evacuation protocols are handled.

In the 2012 Annual Fire and Security Report issued by the university, in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety on Oct. 1. 2013, there is mention that students can access both the Public Safety and the Fogcutter websites in order to learn more about what to do in the case of an emergency or an evacuation.

However, the problem is that students rarely realize that these resources are available to them. Even in dorm rooms, there are placards placed on each door with emergency evacuation procedures, but evidenced by the delayed reactions of students during the previous false evacuations, it is important to raise doubt as to whether to not students actually pay attention to them. The university has made information available, but this does not necessarily prompt a student to think about an appropriate course of action in an emergency or evacuation event. Also, the question has been raised as to why there have been so many false alarms. In the case of a real event, this increases the chance that students will not treat the alarm as serious.

Earlier this year in April, USF was chosen to take part in the Department of Homeland Security’s Campus Resilience Enhancement System (CaRES) along with six other universities across the nation. In this pilot program, the government agency plans to work with USF and the other schools to better train and inform university faculty on how to more effectively communicate information that pertains to emergency and evacuation procedures not only to students, but to the entire university community.

This is vital for a university that lies in the heart of San Francisco; a large, urban city that could face many instances of crime and disaster. The most threatening instsance being a possible earthquake as the city lies atop the Hayward Fault, and between the San Andreas Fault and the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone — whose last quake sparked a deadly tsunami in Japan and drowned parts of the Northwestern U.S.

The key to developing a more comprehensive system may be the missing link between knowledge and understanding: communication. There is no reason to question if the university has the knowledge to handle disastrous situations, but without a proper mode of clear communication, students and faculty may not know how to react in the case of an emergency or evacuation.

Students Face Tough Housing Choices

Every year during spring semester at USF, all returning students have to make a decision about where to live the following year.

For freshmen students, the decision is made for them by the Office of Residence Life. Almost all sophomores are required to live in campus housing, with the exception of those who want to file for a housing exemption and try to live off campus.

Students who are currently sophomores and juniors are not required to live on campus the following year and must decide whether they want to live on campus in Pedro Arrupe, Layola Village, or as a Resident Advisor, or if they want to find housing off campus. Although the decision may at first appear to be relatively easy, there are a variety of factors that can make it significantly more complex.

First, there is the Office of Residence Life, who does not make the housing selection process easy. Freshman students who file for exemption must provide proof of a medical condition or financial situation that makes them unable to live on campus. Once they provide this proof, it can take weeks to hear back from Residence Life about whether or not they actually received an exemption. By this time, all of the residence halls are filled to capacity and if the freshman does not receive an exemption, they will have some serious problems finding on campus housing.

This year, every sophomore residence hall except for Fromm, the all girls hall, was filled to capacity by the end of the first registration day. This means that students who were assigned the second day to register had no on campus options to choose from. Because the Office of Residence Life operates in this way, the Foghorn contends that sophomore students should not be required to live on campus until a more effective system of housing distribution is established.

For freshmen and upper classmen, the housing decision-making process extends far beyond Residence Life policies. Students must take into account the various advantages and disadvantages of living on or off campus. Financially, students will almost always save money by living off campus. Double rooms in each residence hall cost approximately $4,000 each semester and meal plans cost just under $2,000 each semester. If each semester is 4 months then students pay about $1,500 a month for room and board. Craigslist advertises average 3 and 4 bedroom apartments in the USF area at between $2,500 and $3,000 a month. This means multi-bedroom apartments would cost about $800 a month for a student with their own bedroom, plus the cost of food. Unless students get financial aid to cover their housing, they will most likely save money by living off campus.

Community involvement, safety, and accessibility are all reasons to live on campus. First, living in the middle of campus makes it easy to get involved. Club meetings, sports events, and extra curricular activities are at each student’s finger tips, which gives each student an opportunity to make connections and meet different people. This exposure is stifled to an extent once students move off campus. Second, living on campus gives students the ultimate amount of safety possible. The front desk of each residence hall acts as a buffer between students’ living space and potential off campus safety threats. By living on campus students avoid the risks that come with walking home alone at night. Lastly, on campus living gives students access to a large amount of amenities that much of the student body probably takes for granted. Laundry services within each building, wireless internet, flexi meal plans, and heating systems are all huge benefits for students living on campus.

Ultimately it is up to the individual student to decide which aspects of on or off campus living are most valuable to them. Some students many consider finances most important and choose to live off campus, while others may enjoy living in the middle of the USF community and choose to stay on campus. Either way, students should be given the opportunity to make these decisions for themselves and choose the living environment that will make them the most comfortable.


Extended Shuttle Hours Ensure Student Safety

Making students feel safe on their way between home and campus has always been a priority for Public Safety, especially late at night when crimes are more likely to occur.

One feature of Public Safety’s efforts to keep students safe is their shuttle that runs at night, picking up students from locations near campus and driving them home to either their dorm or apartment near campus. This provides students with a ride home at night, which is safer than walking or taking the bus.

Due to popular demand by students, as gauged by surveys conducted by ASUSF Senate last spring, Public Safety has decided to extend the hours of the shuttle to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, while their services stop at 1 a.m. on the other days. The extra two hours on weekend nights will make the shuttle available to students later at night to ensure their safety on their way home.

The Foghorn understands that USF has had to make many budget cuts in order to adjust to the current economic climate. Despite the state of the economy  it is good to see that students’ safety was seen as a priority and was not negatively affected. Student safety measures were not only maintained, but they were actually increased. This shows that the University is keeping its promise to students that their experience at USF will not be negatively impacted by budget cuts.

In previous years, Public Safety never had the budget to extend the hours that the shuttle ran, but student concerns about safety made them prioritize this initiative.

These new hours are currently on a trial period for the 2009 fall semester. Public Safety is observing how much of a demand students have for the new hours and if they are being utilized. If the extension is seen to be unnecessary, the shuttle’s hours will go back to ending at 1 a.m. However, the response from students who took ASUSF’s survey last semester showed the majority of students want the hours of the shuttle to be extended, indicating that the new hours are probably here to stay.

The Foghorn appreciates another new amendment to the shuttle services. In the past, the shuttle was not available to students who were noticeably under the influence of alcohol. Inebriated students would be denied a ride, leaving them to find an alternative way home. The new policy stipulates that Public Safety will not turn any student away. This is a positive development for student safety. Student drinking is a reality, and intoxicated students are at significantly higher risk of not getting home safely. With the shuttle they will have a guaranteed sober driver and will get home safely.

There are still some imperfections in the safety shuttle system. Sometimes students cannot get in contact with someone at the shuttle’s services. Also, students might be told to call back in 15 minutes because there is a back up of pick-ups, and if a student with a disability calls, he or she gets priority over other students. There is only one shuttle on patrol, making it hard for the drivers to get to everyone if there are more than one to three calls in a certain period of time. This is expected with a service like this, and the Foghorn believes that these imperfections do not negate the overall positive service that the shuttle offers.

With the approval of the new hours, students can feel safer, and it is good to see that safety holds such importance with Public Safety and ASUSF. Hopefully students will take advantage of the shuttle’s new hours when they are trying to get home at night.