As Hurricane Irma traveled north from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and threatened the East Coast, UNCP’s communication’s department sent out messages preparing students of potential school closure.
On Sept. 6, UNCP began urging students to monitor the storm’s potential path and keep checking their email for continued communication.
Two days later, the University informed students of a relaxed attendance policy for the week of Sept. 11-15, keeping in mind students who would need to travel out of the area. Students who anticipated missing class were asked to email their professors.
“University leadership determined it would be in the best interest of students, faculty and staff to encourage individuals to take extra precautions—those precautions included a relaxed attendance policy, should students determine their best course of action to ensure personal safety would be to leave campus,” said Jodi Phelps, executive director of University Communications and Marketing. “When it became increasingly clear that our area would be minimally impacted, the relaxed attendance policy was reinforced and remained in effect.”
While the University’s preparedness was appreciated by some, others found the lax attendance policy to be unnecessary or disruptive.
“It was nice to have the relaxed policy for those of us who live farther away from UNCP,” Jackson Bradway, sophomore, said.
Bradway traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C., during the weekend to help Hurricane-prep her family’s house. Although, she did not miss class on Monday due to an exam.
Student attendance dropped in some UNCP classes, and a few professors actually canceled class due to the low student attendance.
“I feel that attendance was so low that week that we missed out on valuable learning,” Rachel Bryan, sophomore, said.
Classroom attendance was not the only thing affected by the relaxed policy. Dining services student staff member attendance was so low that operating hours of Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Papa John’s, Einstein’s and Jazzman’s had to be modified.
Following some of the communication issues during last year’s disaster, Hurricane Matthew, the University worked at bettering their communication with students.
“We learned during Matthew that communicating twice daily at approximately the same times was an effective way to provide reliable information, and we used that standard in anticipation of possible impacts from Hurricane Irma,” Phelps said.
However, criticism insued for their reactive communication, as opposed to the preferred proactive, during Matthew.
As the track of Matthew was unpredictable, students couldn’t be prepared by the University to evacuate.
Post-communication included information on support groups and a message from Chancellor Robin Gray Cummings.
“You – as our students – have amazed me through this recovery. The outpouring of support provided to our neighbors in need is what makes BraveNation special,” Chancellor Cummings said.
The Chancellor and the Student Body President Logan John addressed UNCP in the UC Annex on Oct. 17, 2016.
“The impacts of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 for our region remain very real for many in our service area. Recognizing this reality, the university followed an abundantly cautious course of action when Hurricane Irma became a possibility,” Phelps said.
Hurricane Irma’s path was equally unpredictable, but in an attempt to focus on student safety through increased communication, the University sent eight emails in the time frame spanning from Wednesday until the next Monday, Sept. 11.
According to Phelps, the university primarily communicates to students via their official email, askUNCP@uncp.edu (where direct questions can be sent), the LiveSafe app’s broadcast messaging, BraveAlert, and social media during emergency situations. Messages are also published to a banner on the UNCP website, and in the event that web servers are impacted, uncp.edu/bravealert is set in place and personal messages can be distributed through community directors in residence halls.