Northeastern’s Charlotte campus prepares for Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence is expected to slow down and begin to lose power as it makes landfall in the Carolinas. By the time the storm reaches Charlotte on Saturday, it is predicted to be a tropical storm. Photo by NASA

As the leading edge of Hurricane Florence moved over the North Carolina coast on Thursday, Northeastern’s Charlotte campus was mobilizing a robust network of people to monitor weather patterns, assess risks, and provide support services to students and their families.

While the inland city rarely faces challenges from hurricanes, campus officials employ a series of emergency protocols to handle any weather-related events, said Cheryl Richards, chief executive officer and regional dean of Northeastern’s Charlotte campus. She and other campus leaders are working with Northeastern University’s Emergency Services and local authorities to assess how the hurricane could affect students and campus infrastructure.

The Charlotte campus serves many students, Richards said, including those who study on campus and take classes online. “We consider our students anyone across nine states in the Southeast, many of whom may live in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia—all of which are affected by the path of Hurricane Florence.”

Todd Kaplan, Northeastern’s emergency operations manager, said that the Northeastern University Police Department and the Facilities Division are coordinating with weather forecasters and emergency managers to provide timely updates and keep tabs on students and their family members who are in the path of the storm.  

“What we always try to do is make sure that everybody is informed, aware of everything that’s going on, so they can make the right decisions,” Kaplan said.

Students who are affected by Hurricane Florence, including those at Northeastern’s campuses in Boston, Charlotte, Seattle, Toronto, and Silicon Valley, are encouraged to use Northeastern’s We Care program, which provides support to students during challenging times.   

The eye of Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Friday morning. As it moves over land, the storm will slow down and begin to lose power. By the time the storm reaches Charlotte on Saturday, the winds will have slowed down significantly, with gusts expected around 40 mph. The biggest concern is from the rainfall, which could reach 6 to 12 inches over the weekend.

“A city can’t handle that amount of rain,” said Kaplan. “You’ll have some amount of flooding.”

Kaplan has been working with emergency managers in North Carolina and school administrators in Boston and Charlotte to coordinate the university’s response. The Charlotte campus is expected to remain open on Thursday, although classes may be affected on Monday.

Kaplan said university officials have also contacted co-op students working in the area, and students whose families live in the path of the storm, to offer any assistance they can.

This type of care network is an example of a community approach to preparing for a natural disaster, said Daniel Aldrich, who directs the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern.

“What really drives the best survival in a disaster is making sure the community itself is prepared,” said Aldrich.

Aldrich studies how to help communities prepare for and respond to disasters. Places that are best prepared to cope with natural disasters are ones where people think about the needs of themselves and their neighbors, he said. A connected community can help get an elderly person out of a home with no air conditioning, or check on a neighbor with small children.

Communities don’t have to be completely local. Aldrich and his wife, who are in Massachusetts, just spoke with an older couple who didn’t want to evacuate their home on the Outer Banks.

“We don’t even know them,” he said. But he and his wife are friends with their children. “They know that we work in this field, and they asked us to convince their parents to go.”

Communities that are connected, with people looking out for each other, are better equipped for natural disasters, Aldrich said.  

“What’s really going to determine survivability and recoverability from the hurricane is going to be these social networks,” he said.

Essentially? It takes a village.