11 years since Charley, does UCF have hurricane amnesia?

As hurricane season promptly sets in, forecasters, researchers and emergency responders ask the general public to stay prepared in case of an emergency.

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It's been more than a decade since a major hurricane swept past Central Florida.

A lucky streak like this can cause what has been dubbed hurricane amnesia, "a very common trend in hurricane-prone areas of the world, in which people tend to forget the potential severity of hurricanes in the intervals between major storms," according to Wise Geek.

But as hurricane season promptly sets in, forecasters, researchers and emergency responders ask the general public to stay prepared in case of an emergency.

"Although Central Florida hasn't been impacted by a major hurricane in 10 years, UCF has used that time to become more resilient," said Jeff Morgan, UCF's director of security and emergency management. "The university is more prepared and has learned a lot from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. It is safe to say that UCF has not become desensitized. In fact, we have become more prepared."

According to forecasts, this year's hurricane season is expected to be below normal, but could include eight tropical storms, four hurricanes and one major hurricane.

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The last time Orlando was significantly impacted by a hurricane was in 2004 when Hurricane Charley steamrolled through Central Florida, followed by two additional storms that hit the east coast.

At UCF, Charley and its 105-mph winds caused significant damage at the Recreation and Wellness Center, which lost much of its main roof and suffered substantial flooding across the facility.

But since then, UCF and its surrounding community have yet to face another catastrophic event, and Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State's Tropical Meteorology Project, said it may cause dangerous desensitization toward the threat of hurricane season.

"Unless you're me, people don't think about hurricanes all day long. So, if you haven't experienced one lately, it might not be a big concern for you," he said. "Florida has been incredibly lucky, which is very great, but it also creates a big concern because if there are no storms, then people get desensitized."

However, Morgan emphasized that UCF's emergency units have used that time to further prepare for an extreme weather situation, and have certainly not fallen victim to hurricane amnesia.

In case of a hurricane, Klotzbach said the key is to follow the advice of local emergency management.

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Our cover story "Do you have hurricane amnesia?" discusses the danger of become desensitized during long periods without severe storms. Video by Caroline Glenn, Central Florida Future

"They're the ones who have done the research. Don't second guess your local emergency management," he said. "If they tell you to go, then go. They've been planning for these things."

At UCF, the Office of Emergency Management monitors weather using weather sensors, rain gauges, multiple Internet radar sources and its strong working partnership with the National Weather Service Melbourne.

The office additionally works closely and partners with other local emergency departments, such as fire, law enforcement and health and medical when it comes to preparing for emergency situations.

"It is very important to plan and work with the organizations you will be responding with prior to an incident," Morgan said.

In 2010, the National Weather Service designated UCF as the largest "StormReady" university in the country. And last year, the university showed its intent to remain that way when it launched a new listserv for students, faculty and staff to receive weather bulletins about severe weather that could impact UCF's campuses.

"It's really nothing like Florida is due or not due, they've been incredibly lucky," Klotzbach said. "But if you look at the long-term patterns, then at some point in the near future there's going to be a big hurricane hitting and preparation is key."

Prepare for a hurricane early by keeping an emergency kit consisting of:

» 1 gallon of water per person for at least three days

» Three-day supply of non-perishable food

» Emergency contact list

» Battery-powered radio

» Flashlight

» Batteries

» Whistle

» First-aid kit

» Important documents (passport, birth certificate, deeds, social security cards)

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Daniela Marin is the Entertainment Coordinator for the Central Florida Future.

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