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Student volunteers assist with Hurricane Ian prep at special needs shelters

USF volunteers serve nearly 1,500 hours to assist evacuation shelters during Hurricane Ian

The University of South Florida continues to partner with Hillsborough County and the Florida Department of Health to assist the community during emergencies. For Hurricane Ian, the Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management activated USF’s Community Emergency Response Team to prepare and assist emergency shelters throughout the county. 

The team, which included 53 student volunteers, served nearly 1,000 hours before, during and after the hurricane. They helped set up and manage 16 locations – general population shelters, special needs shelters and emergency pet shelters – across the county. 

The special needs shelters were cleared, cleaned and prepped to include medical cots and medical supplies, such as bandages and gauze, for residents who need assistance with daily functions and medical monitoring. To provide medical assistance as needed, the Florida Department of Health deployed the USF Medical Response Unit’s Specialized Disaster Response Team to the largest special needs shelter in the county, which housed more than 300 evacuated patients and caregivers.

“Our team represented the largest contribution of licensed medical providers at the shelter and our responders actively cared for hundreds of patients 24 hours a day,” said Austin Jared, the Medical Response Unit operations coordinator. “We performed interventions ranging from suctioning of airways, administration of thousands of liters of oxygen, vitals and glucose monitoring and assisting patients with medications.”

Medical Response Unit preparing equipment

Medical Response Unit preparing equipment for deployment to special needs shelters

The Medical Response Unit is made up of students who are nationally certified paramedics, EMTs and emergency medical responders. The unit provided a combined 700 hours of medical care throughout Hurricane Ian. 

Elizabeth Dunn, USF instructor and director of the USF Community Emergency Response Team, is encouraging those who haven’t done so already, to make a plan and prepare an emergency kit for any possible future storms. The complexity of hurricane preparedness is increased for those with limited resources, temporary housing and language barriers. Obstacles like these are the focus of Dunn’s summer course in the College of Public Health, where students work one-on-one with refugee women from Refugee & Migrant Women’s Initiative, Inc. to prepare for natural disasters in the Tampa Bay area.

For the refugee women who were unable to participate over the summer, Dunn actively worked with them throughout the week to determine their evacuation zones and emergency shelters nearest to them.

“Engaging our students throughout the year with service-learning and research opportunities allows us as an academic institution to establish and strengthen partnerships in the community,” Dunn said. “It is through these built relationships that we are in a perfect position to build resilience and support some of our most vulnerable populations that may be affected by a disaster event.”

To assist students impacted by Hurricane Ian, click here. 

USF Health is also collecting donations to support on-site relief efforts. You can learn more about their efforts here.

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