Jacksonville University

How universities are using social media to keep students safe.

With Hurricane Irma barreling toward southern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, many school officials are erring on the side of caution to protect their students. Florida Governor Rick Scott also announced late Thursday evening that all schools, state colleges and state universities would be closed through Monday.

Even with the school closures, today, many students are grappling with the decision to find a safe place to stay in town or travel back home to be with family during this uncertain time. In preparation for an intensifying storm of this magnitude, Jacksonville University is relying on social media to circulate pertinent information and emergency plans to students and parents.

"We've got students from almost all 50 states and about 30 foreign countries, so this is a little different from a state school where everyone drives an hour home back to mom and dad,'' Tim Cost, the president of Jacksonville University, told TODAY. "The sense of fear dissipates as parents get more information and they get it sooner. Many times the parent's No. 1 concern is just, 'Are you able to keep my kid safe, or should I bring my kid home?'"

To put both students and their parents at ease, the following Florida state colleges and universities have posted detailed plans and evacuation information via their social media accounts and on their respective websites.

Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida, will be closed from Friday, September 8, through Tuesday, September 12. In addition to emails and text messages, university officials are utilizing Facebook Live to keep their 4,100 students updated. In the video below, they give directives for students who want to remain on campus or leave.

A hundred percent of our students are mobile, and they don't want to read a 16-paragraph email,'' Cost said. "They want a quick hit, and they want regular updates from us. Facebook Live has been a great tool for us.

Other neighboring colleges are following suit, cancelling classes, evacuating campus, and sharing information on platforms that students are far more engaged with and more likely to use, in the event of the looming disaster.

The University of Miami in Coral Gables is closed until Sunday, September 10, and will assist those students who can’t leave campus with relocation to a government shelter. See the message below, posted on Twitter, from President Julio Frenk.

Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach has already issued a mandatory evacuation of its campus as of Wednesday, September 6. But the university is still providing updates on social media about important procedures.

"We managed something similar through (Hurricane) Matthew last year, so we're in regular communication with parents and family members about the severity of the storm and what could take place,'' Bethune-Cookman spokesperson Ursula James told TODAY.

James also added that school officials have been working alongside Volusia County officials to help students who can’t return home. As such, those students will be relocated to nearby designated shelters.

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Here are other Florida colleges and universities that have also confirmed campus closures and schedule changes:

  • Florida Institute of Technology: Classes canceled Friday through Monday.
  • Florida International University: Campus closed starting Thursday, and all students are urged to leave.
  • Miami Dade College: Campus closed starting Wednesday.
  • St. Thomas University: Classes and events canceled starting Wednesday through the weekend. Students are under mandatory evacuation orders.
  • University of Central Florida: All classes canceled Thursday through Monday. Campus closes Friday, although Spectrum Stadium will be open for the football game.
  • University of Miami: Classes canceled Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
  • University of South Florida: Classes canceled Thursday through Sunday, with certain campuses closed Monday, as well.