Just outside Lumberton, North Carolina, the University of North Carolina Pembroke (UNCP) sits, permanently marked by hurricanes. The university was hit by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence in 2016 and 2018, respectively. The school's leader for hurricane preparedness is Travis Bryant, officially the associate vice chancellor for campus safety and emergency operations.
"We had one employee on campus [who] lost their home during Matthew and Florence," Bryant said, adding that some students went through the same thing. After the devastation of these storms, Bryant said UNCP created emergency relief funds for both students and faculty. These funds are still in use today, though not exclusive to hurricane relief.
"They've been through two hurricanes, and now they've been through COVID. So it's been a really devastating time over the last four years for those students that are graduating," Bryant said. "But they're very resilient though."
UNCP now has a more robust plan for hurricane preparation, including moving students who cannot evacuate campus—such as those who live along the coast or internationally—into a central residence hall and working with dining services to make sure they have access to meals. "We've learned from those two storms," Bryant said.
While UNCP as an entity was not eligible for some federal funding following the storms, the town of Pembroke was able to apply, and Bryant said a strong partnership was formed.
"We were able to get almost a million dollars just for the town of Pembroke to improve stormwater flow here in the town, and most of that was around campus," Bryant said.
These improvements included retention ponds and drainage ditches added to campus, according to Bryant. He said flood water is now redirected during storms, rather than simply blocked off by a berm.
While the university is now more prepared to handle large-scale hurricanes like Matthew and Florence, Bryant said preparedness begins at home.
"I live about five miles from campus. So I mean, I've been here all my life and I've worked in this region pretty much all my life," Bryant said. "I would tell anyone that's really trying to prepare for a storm, if you're a resident, and you're trying to get ready for hurricane season this year, find out what resources are available in your community."