UNCW to Coordinate Statewide Preparedness Exercise on “Hurricane Zephyr” in October

Monday, September 25, 2017

The UNCW Department of Environmental Health and Safety will coordinate a statewide hurricane preparedness drill Oct. 13-18. The exercise, involving a hypothetical Category 5 storm, “Hurricane Zephyr,” will involve 13 other University of North Carolina campuses, UNC General Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the National Guard and state and local emergency management officials.

“This is the first time these organizations have collaborated on a hurricane preparedness drill at this level. It’s a big undertaking,” said Eric Griffin, assistant EH&S director and emergency management coordinator. “This is a rare opportunity for UNCW to test its plans, procedures, protocols and training in coordination with other universities and state and federal partners.”

Designed to help strengthen and update existing hurricane preparedness plans, the exercise will simulate the actual procedures and communications that would take place in the event of a real storm with catastrophic potential. Evaluators will observe the exercise and recommend changes or updates to enhance emergency plans and coordination among the UNC campuses.

The drill will involve 175-200 people at UNCW, including student volunteers from the communication studies and psychology departments and the School of Nursing who will use the exercise as an applied-learning experience through the ETEAL program. As part of the exercise, 35-45 students will be evacuated by bus from UNCW to UNC Greensboro. A group of residence hall students also will hold a mock floor meeting explaining evacuation procedures.

In addition to staging an evacuation, emergency operations and post-storm assessments, the exercise will involve testing procedures to arrange for continuity of education for students should the UNCW campus suffer significant damage. The university’s registrar will test the procedures involved in helping students transfer to other universities.

Planning for the exercise began in 2015, well before the current hurricane season. As a Disaster Resistant University, UNCW continuously reviews its preparedness plans. The university was selected to host the exercise based on its coastal location and Griffin, who took the initial steps toward planning the drill, was chosen to coordinate it. FEMA provided the bulk of the necessary funding, with additional contributions from UNC General Administration and UNCW.

The UNCW community may notice some unusual activity at times ­– a tent will be set up near the clocktower and several National Guardsmen will be on campus in uniform, for example – but the exercise will not disrupt campus operations. No action will be required from non-participants. However, with the hurricane season not set to expire until Nov. 30, students, faculty and staff should familiarize themselves with campus emergency procedures and communications and have personal preparedness plans at home. Attention to safety and security are part of UNCW’s efforts to create a supportive, student-centered community, one of the values of the university’s Strategic Plan.

-- Tricia Vance