USF Expert on Hurricane Preparedness Conducts Research and Offers Help

TAMPA, Fla. (July 2, 2008) – As the rest of the nation combats floods, storms and fires, the Tampa Bay region is faced with many unknowns about its own hurricane season - but preparedness is not one of them. The University of South Florida is part of a network of resources with expertise earned through experience and research. Among them is an American Red Cross "Good Neighbor" who is a certified member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), trained by Tampa Fire Rescue. She is also a researcher who is gathering data communities can use to bounce back from disasters of all kinds.

Currently serving as the faculty advisor to the first student-organized American Red Cross Club at USF, Robin Ersing, a professor in the School of Social Work, established USF's first training partnership with the American Red Cross (ARC) to certify social work students and others in the delivery of disaster-related services, including operation of the on-campus emergency evacuation shelter at Pizzo elementary school. This year ARC named Ersing its "Good Neighbor of the Year," the highest honor bestowed on a community member, for her efforts through research, teaching and service, dedicated to disaster preparedness in the Tampa Bay area.

With her students, Ersing has studied disaster resilient communities, and has presented their findings throughout the nation. She has served as a member of a special international disaster preparedness and response working group established by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and is in the process of editing a volume on the role of social networks in surviving disasters. Ersing points out that there's more to surviving a hurricane than getting out of the way or holding on until it's over.

"An important but often overlooked aspect of disaster recovery involves the strength of community ties, including the support of neighbors and friends, who help build our capacity to cope and move forward," she said. In fact, she is working with a student researcher on a USF College of Arts and Sciences-funded grant to collect pilot data in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties on the role of citizen responders during natural disasters.

"Citizen response programs such as CERT are an integral component in the disaster management framework," said Ersing. "Oftentimes professional responders such as fire and medical personnel are unable to gain entry into neighborhoods until debris has been cleared. That means we must rely on our neighbors to meet our initial needs for safety and first aid. Trained citizen responders offer an added asset to emergency managers by communicating the immediate needs and conditions of their neighborhoods. This helps disaster professionals determine the best way to allocate resources."

Ersing and Naomi Yavneh, an associate professor in USF's Honors College, are serving as principal investigators on a three-year $270,000 National Science Foundation Grant to train undergraduate students, competitively selected from across the country, in research skills necessary to study the social impacts of hurricanes on families and communities.

"Our goal is to develop a group of emerging young scholars who share an interest in wanting to conduct research related to issues of hurricane preparedness, response and recovery," said Ersing. "Ultimately we hope this research will influence policies and practices that can mitigate the impact a natural disaster might have on families and communities."

For more information about all of USF'shurricane experts, visit: http://usfweb3.usf.edu/absolutenm/templates/?a=677&z=42

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  It is one of Florida's top three research universities.  USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine.  The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland.  USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference. 

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