FEMA chooses UNCW to be the site of unique hurricane drill


Genevieve Guenther

Meredith Hoffman, Assistant News Editor

North Carolina is currently ranked as the fourth most hurricane-prone state in the United States, according to the National Weather Service [NWS]. With a history of over 46 hurricanes impacting North Carolina directly, college campuses around the state have formed comprehensive safety and evacuation plans to keep students safe in the event of a hurricane impacting campus.

In this endeavor, UNC Wilmington’s campus and administration is no different. In a press release given to The Seahawk from Assistant EH&S Director and Emergency Management Coordinator, Eric Griffin, on campus, the upcoming emergency preparedness plan dubbed “Project Zephyr” was outlined.

Beginning Oct. 13, UNCW will partner with 13 different campuses within the UNC system, the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], the NWS and the National Guard. Additionally, between 175 and 200 students from UNCW will be involved in the drill, and up to 35 of those students will be evacuated to UNCG.

The exercise Project Zephyr will take place primarily on UNCW’s campus, and the campus of UNC Greensboro will also play a critical part. The exercise is meant to test the university’s response to a fictional Category 5 “super storm” that would be a direct threat to the campus and the Wilmington area as a whole.

The simulation of the theoretical storm named Hurricane Zephyr will be a huge undertaking, said Griffin.

On campus, students may see members of the simulation at work. Students from multiple academic departments on campus, including the school of nursing, communication studies and students of the psychology department will be volunteers in the drill.

Additionally, students can expect to see National Guardsmen residing in tents near the clock tower.

An emergency preparedness drill such as Project Zephyr is seen as an invaluable resource to better test and prepare the university for a possible super storm; however, a drill of this magnitude requires a large budget.

According to Griffin, UNCW was chosen by FEMA to be the location of the simulation due to its close proximity to the ocean. In coordination with FEMA, which is funding the project with the help of the UNC General Administration, the university has been planning Project Zephyr since 2015.

The press release from Environmental Health and Safety [EH&S] warns that students may see “unusual activity” on campus from Oct. 13 to Oct. 18, but asserts that the simulation will not disrupt student life.