UNCW Storm Plans Pass the Test of “Hurricane Zephyr” Exercise

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The fictional “Hurricane Zephyr” tested the ability of UNCW and other University of North Carolina campuses to plan for and respond to a Category 5 hurricane. UNCW’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety coordinated the statewide drill Oct. 13-18, 2017.

Fourteen University of North Carolina campuses, UNC General Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service and state and local emergency management officials participated in the first disaster preparedness exercise involving almost every UNC campus.

“The exercise went smoothly,” said Eric Griffin, assistant EH&S director and UNCW emergency management coordinator. Although the drill had been planned since 2015, its timing during the particularly destructive 2017 hurricane season provided fresh information about the challenges created by hurricanes with catastrophic potential.

“We learned a lot from FEMA officials based on their experience with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria,” Griffin said.

The five-day drill involved more than 175 people at UNCW, including student volunteers from communication studies, psychology and nursing who took part in the exercise as an applied-learning experience through the ETEAL program. One group of students was “evacuated” by bus to UNC Greensboro, while others documented the exercise on film, facilitated student engagement or served in other capacities.

“Being part of this experience was incredibly eye-opening because of how much work goes into evacuating students,” said communication studies major Melissa Trainer ’18. “We live in an area very prone to hurricanes, so I hope that this exercise can be a model not only for us, but all UNC schools that could be affected by a major hurricane.”

The exercise was designed to help strengthen and update existing preparedness plans, and simulated procedures and communications that would take place in the event of a real storm. Damage assessment plans and procedures were also tested to ensure that student records could be transferred efficiently in the event that UNCW’s campus suffered extreme damage and could not reopen immediately.

UNCW continuously reviews and updates its preparedness plans. It qualifies as a Disaster-Resistant University and is the first university in North Carolina to receive the StormReady designation by the National Weather Service. FEMA provided most of the funding for the drill, with contributions from UNC General Administration and UNCW.

Although the traditional peak of the hurricane season has passed, the season does not officially end until Nov. 30. Students, faculty and staff should familiarize themselves with campus emergency procedures and communications and review their personal preparedness plans.

-- Tricia Vance 


Zephyr exercise

Eric Griffin sets up the satellite internet system during "Hurricane Zephyr."

Hurricane Zephyr

FEMA took part in the hurricane exercise.

Stan Harts, Eric Griffin

Stan Harts (left) and Eric Griffin (right) work with a participant.

Evacuated students

Student volunteers took part in the exercise as an applied-learning experience.