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Learning from Matthew: UNCP Continues to Recover from Disaster

R. Travis Bryant, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and emergency operations, understands how valuable sources of power can be in a natural disaster. Devastation from Hurricane Matthew in late October helped reinforce that point.

When the storm sent rivers of floodwater rushing through campus along with destructive winds, that resource became unavailable. Many students on and around campus panicked, unsure of when they’d be a

ble to cook, access a television or turn on their lights again. As the batteries on their cell phones drained, those students desperately searched for ways to inform relatives about their condition.

Meanwhile, cafeteria workers tried to provide food for the students stranded on campus despite the lack of power.

“Our cafeteria staff actually brought in cookers from home,” Bryant said during a meeting with the UNCP Board of Trustees.

Ultimately, over 20,700 meals were served to students in the absence of power.

It’s a situation Bryant never wants to see the community faced with again, which is why he has been taking on initiatives to fortify UNCP against similar disasters in the future.

A big aspect of that process involves preparing specific areas of campus to run on backup electricity, should the need arise. Bryant is looking to equip more facilities with generators. As of now, the Campus Police building is the only shelter on campus that has the resources necessary to run exclusively on generator power.

Bryant sees the English E. Jones Center as an option for another generator-backed facility that could be used in an emergency similar to Hurricane Matthew. The costs of equipping an individual on-campus facility with sufficient generators could reach $100,000, but the Jones Center provides many resources and plenty of space that could be useful.

For example, the building contains athletic training rooms that could be used as first-aid stations, while the two gyms provide enough space to provide shelter for large numbers of students and community members.

Members of the National Guard and other first responders utilized the auxiliary gym to temporarily set up camp in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Having to accommodate those people contributed to a bigger lesson for Bryant and the rest of the UNCP community.

“What we found out is we will be called upon to assist,” Bryant said.

UNCP provided assistance to the rest of Robeson County through quartering first responders and embarking on many service projects, but the school also had to apply for financial help to mitigate its own damages. Over $1 million in requests have been submitted by UNCP to North Carolina Emergency Management, along with applications for various grant opportunities.

Ultimately, the school wants to strengthen its fortitude against power loss, which, according to Bryant, proved to be more devastating than the high floodwaters associated with the hurricane.

“My biggest fear for an emergency is a loss of power,” Bryant said.

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