Communication through the Storm

Over the course of the past week, the dedicated personnel at the UNC System and all of our institutions have been working diligently to keep our students and universities safe while Hurricane Florence has caused damage across the state. The following are regular updates that illustrate the type of preparation and coordination that is part of our emergency management process. I encourage those with questions to check northcarolina.edu/florence regularly or reach out at florence@northcarolina.edu.

Update from President Spellings on Monday, September 17, 2018 on the impacts of Hurricane Florence

For the majority of our institutions, tomorrow will be normal operations. Beginning at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, twelve institutions will operate as normal, while five institutions will have canceled classes.
 
UNC Wilmington, UNC Pembroke, and Fayetteville State University remain the most impacted by the storm.
 
UNC Wilmington will remain closed through this week and likely into next week. Travel to Wilmington remains very difficult and the campus has sustained damage to multiple buildings from the storm. Power is slowly returning.
 
UNC Pembroke is closed at least through Wednesday and likely through the week and into next. Flooding remains a major issue.
 
Fayetteville State University is scheduled to resume classes on Monday, Sept 24 at 8 a.m. with residence halls opening on Sunday. The city remains under serious threat of flooding from the Cape Fear River.
 
East Carolina University has reopened its residence halls and will resume classes on Wednesday, Sept 19. We are continuing to monitor water levels on the Tar River as it crests. Appalachian State University will be closed on Tuesday, Sept 18 as officials gauge the effects of the storm on mudslides and campus accessibility in Boone. 
 
I am extremely grateful to the hard work of our chancellors and their teams in getting our campuses back up and running in a safe but focused manner. The professionalism shown by our teams on the ground has been extraordinary. As Brent Herron, AVP of Safety and Emergency Operations at the System Office noted, it’s a result of months and years of preparation and emergency preparedness drills by our personnel and institutions.
 
We are continuing to shift resources and staff from unaffected institutions to affected institutions including an all-hands-on-deck effort today to move generator fuel from UNC Charlotte to UNC Wilmington to maintain power to critical storage facilities at our research labs. 
 
We continue to do all we can to assist in sheltering our fellow North Carolinians. UNC-Chapel Hill’s 500-person shelter at the Friday Center is now at capacity, and officials are continuing to prepare a second shelter at the Tennis Center for possible use. That task was made more difficult by the significant flash flooding that occurred in the Triangle last night, but teams are at work to move that center forward. Preparations are also underway at NC State to be ready to provide space if state officials need it in Raleigh. 
 
Additionally, we are beginning to ramp up efforts to secure donations and resources for our affected students. UNC Pembroke and UNC Wilmington have both started funds for students at uncp.edu/relief and Giving.UNCW.edu/EmergencyRelief, respectively. I know we are ready to work as a System, and with our Legislature, to ensure we support our communities and our students with the resources they need to recover and I am grateful for that commitment.
 
As I mentioned yesterday, support and flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education will be important during our recovery effort as our institutions navigate the remainder of fall semester. I spoke today with Secretary DeVos by phone and she pledged her full assistance. My team will work with the Department of Education to assess our needs and convey those to the Secretary in the coming days.​

 

Update from President Spellings on Sunday, September 16, 2018 on the impacts of Hurricane Florence

“The storm is not over and the worst may be yet to come” was the clear message today from state officials, from the National Weather Service, and from our teams and leaders on the ground. We are continuing to work closely with emergency management officials to respond to immediate needs and address the effects of the storm.

We again held a chancellor’s call and update today. The potential for rising rivers and damaging flood waters continue to be the number one concern for our institutions.

UNC Pembroke is most affected currently, with standing water from half-a-foot to two feet present on most of campus, although by end of today, power had been restored to some parts of campus.

Fayetteville State University and East Carolina University also face challenges from rising river levels, which could make campus accessibility difficult. UNC Wilmington has seen damage to several buildings from Hurricane Florence’s landfall and the prolonged rainfall across the coast.

Roads remain impassable in large areas in the eastern and southern parts of the state, and Wilmington has been largely cut off from the rest of the state with I-40 closed headed into the city.

Currently, the storm is moving north, affecting Charlotte and the mountains with Appalachian State University experiencing significant effects. We expect flash flooding and potential mud slides, but are unlikely to have serious long-term damage in the West.

Classes remain canceled on Monday at the vast majority of our institutions. UNC Wilmington expects classes to remain canceled for the full week and beyond; UNC Pembroke will likely be canceled through this week, perhaps longer; Fayetteville State University could experience closures through this week depending on flood damage in Fayetteville; and East Carolina University is monitoring water levels on the Tar River closely as they make decisions on class cancellations. They currently expect to reopen on Wednesday, but cresting rivers could change that.

As I mentioned yesterday, our institutions are mobilizing to help affected North Carolinians. Today I joined Chancellor Folt and Governor Cooper at UNC-Chapel Hill’s newly opened shelter at the Friday Center. Close to 200 North Carolinians are housed there as of this afternoon, and many more are on their way. As a System, we are working with state officials to assess additional needs and to assist in any way possible.

Our institutions are also working hard to assist each other, as facilities personnel, first responders, and supplies from those institutions largely unaffected are being shifted to those who need them the most. As roads clear and travel becomes more feasible, we’ll do more of this resource sharing.

Lastly, today I reached out to Secretary DeVos to ask for the same flexibility that was extended to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and I expect her team to work over the next week to assist our institutions.

In reality, that means an ability to boost federal financial aid for families most affected, to shift students to sister institutions while still gaining the credit they need to graduate, and to provide flexibility in term-length so that institutions can complete the semester and make-up classes in reasonable ways.

This gets technical very quickly, and Kim Van Noort and her team at the System are working closely with provosts at each institution to ensure that the red tape comes down and we leverage the benefits of being a united System. We’re exploring all available options if needed to ensure that students can stay on-track to graduate, from providing access to courses through UNC Online to placing students at non-affected UNC System institutions.

This is an evolving situation and the impacts of this storm are still unfolding. I appreciate the tireless efforts of our chancellors and their teams to assess the situation on the ground and protect the lives of our students, faculty, and staff.

Update from President Spellings on Saturday, September 15, 2018 on the impacts of Hurricane Florence

Tropical Storm Florence’s slow-moving track continues to bring heavy rains to the east and southeast of our state with UNC Wilmington, Fayetteville State University, and UNC Pembroke most affected. As rivers crest over the coming days, we expect serious impacts at all three institutions, as well as East Carolina University.

Additionally, over the next 24 hours, the storm’s path takes it through Charlotte and into the mountains, with up to 10 inches of heavy downpour expected in the Charlotte area that could cause significant flash flooding at that institution.

UNC Charlotte and our western institutions -- Western Carolina University, UNC Asheville, and Appalachian State University -- are taking all available precautions to mitigate any impact. UNC Charlotte and App State are most affected and are closed through Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

Our institutions are in the process of making closure decisions regarding next week’s classes. We take this decision seriously and my team is working with each institution’s leadership and providing a statewide view during the discussions. Please visit northcarolina.edu/florence for the latest information on when schools are reopening.

Students are spread across the state, and those who sought shelter in areas like Charlotte are due to receive serious flooding in the days ahead. State government officials have asked for residents not to travel east of I-95 or south of route 70. This means even institutions in the center of the state must consider the safety of students who traveled home for the storm and must return for classes if reopened.

Finally, as a System and as a public institution, we are stepping up to help during the recovery effort. UNC-Chapel Hill has led the way, working quickly with state officials to open a 500-person shelter at the Friday Center -- located next to CSLD where Board meetings are held -- and to prepare an additional 1,000-person shelter at the Tennis Center.

Additional institutions across the Triangle and the Triad are in discussions with state officials, as well as institutions closer to affected areas that escaped major damage like East Carolina University. We will keep the Board apprised as additional shelters are opened, and as our institutions’ resources are further leveraged to help North Carolinians.

This storm is far from over and the brunt of the effects will come as rivers crest. Please keep our first responders, the facilities personnel on-the-ground at each institution, our national guard, and all those in harm’s way in your thoughts and prayers.

Reports are that seven North Carolinians have been killed by the storm thus far. Our overriding priority is to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are safe and that our public institutions are doing all they can to protect every North Carolinian during this storm.

Update from President Spellings on Friday, September 14, 2018 on the impacts of Hurricane Florence

As Hurricane Florence continues to batter the coast, our institutions are experiencing serious flooding and significant wind damage. The storm is moving slowly and the current track of the storm makes this a full-state event.

We held a chancellors’ call today at 2:00 pm and will be holding daily calls over the weekend and into next week to understand the impact and coordinate efforts.

As reported by the chancellors, we are anticipating the greatest impacts at UNC Wilmington, UNC Pembroke, and Fayetteville State University. Initial reports indicate that Elizabeth City State University and East Carolina University have avoided major damage. As the storm tracks north over the weekend, we expect significant rain in Charlotte and the mountains that could cause flash flooding at those institutions.

Rains continue and rivers are swelling and the situation will continue to evolve. To keep the state and our institutions up to date on the latest information, we have created a one-stop website at www.northcarolina.edu/florence that will be refreshed daily.

Finally, our institutions are stepping up to help our state’s communities and displaced persons. North Carolina Emergency Management Services is working with our institutions to set up shelters. We expect two shelters to be set up at UNC-Chapel Hill for up to 1,500 people at the Friday Center and Tennis Center this weekend and will keep the Board apprised of that process and any other developments.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those in harm’s way, and I ask you to join me in sending our profound gratitude to our chancellors and their teams including the emergency management personnel, the first responders, and campus facilities personnel across our institutions. Brent Herron at the UNC System office is in hourly coordination with those teams as they work around the clock to protect our people and institutions.

 

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