Campus News

Darrell Jeter explains the operations of the Emergency Operations Center

The director of emergency management and planning answered The Well’s questions about the Emergency Operations Center.

Personnel in the Emergency Operations Center,
While working together to deal with the University's response to COVID-19, personnel in the Emergency Operations Center still practicie social distancing. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When the University faces challenging situations — an impending hurricane, snowstorm or even a Franklin Street basketball celebration – it has a special place on campus where experts and decision makers can keep in constant contact.

The Emergency Operations Center is Carolina’s situation room. The restricted-access room has a prominent flat screen monitor that can divide into multiple views at once, for news monitoring, videoconferencing, resource tracking software, and more. A huge central conference table equipped with multiple power outlets dominates the floor. The rest of the room has breakout spaces for smaller meetings or individual workstations. There’s also a low-tech rolling whiteboard for impromptu notetaking.

The University, which has been monitoring for COVID-19 since Jan. 28, activated the EOC on March 5, making it the primary campus location for dealing with the situation. Darrell Jeter, director of emergency management and planning, manages the EOC and took a few minutes from his very busy day to answer questions about it.

Darrell Jeter

Darrell Jeter

Q. What are the advantages of activating the EOC?

A. It’s a point of coordination. We are a large organization, and when you have events or emergencies, they are going to require interaction and engagement between departments that may not necessarily have that kind of engagement routinely. The EOC allows us to bring all of our key campus partners together so that we can coordinate our response actions, our resource needs and our messaging.

Q. Who staffs the EOC?

A. It depends on the incident. If it’s a law enforcement-related event, then the UNC Police would serve as lead, for example. This being a public health and medical event for campus, Campus Health and Environment, Health and Safety are serving as the leads for the response to it. It has impacts across campus, so we have student affairs, facilities, finance and operations, emergency management and planning, communications, and others. It’s a broad scope of individuals and departments.

Q. Who are the people off campus that you are keeping in touch with?

A. Our local partners are the Orange County Health Department, UNC Hospitals, the UNC System office, and emergency management for the state, Orange County and Chapel Hill. Through the UNC System, we’re connected with the other campuses as well.

Q. When have you activated the EOC before?

A. We activate for planned and unplanned events. Planned events are the annual Halloween on Franklin Street and post-game celebrations on Franklin Street. Other examples are if we have mass gatherings or winter weather. We did activate for Hurricane Florence in 2018 and very briefly for Hurricane Dorian in the fall of 2019.

Q. How is operating the EOC different this time? Are you practicing social distancing?

A. Absolutely. To stay in compliance with the guidance of having 10 or less gathered, if it requires more than 10, then we give the option to join us virtually. Not everyone is in the room. That certainly is a distinction from previous events. We’re also having to manage with reduced staff across campus.

Q. Before COVID-19 began, the University had the 2019 Communicable Disease Response Plan in place. How helpful has that been in this situation?

A. Plans constantly require modifications and updates. But at least it gives us a framework, a baseline to build on. We know, at a minimum, some of the issues we need to address. We’re seeing that now with social distancing and with System guidance to reduce our presence on campus.

Q. What’s your biggest challenge?

A. What’s next? We’re looking at other nations that have already faced impact, in European nations and in Asia, and asking what that means for us. What can we learn to help to slow the spread? Are we taking measures soon enough? There’s not necessarily a playbook for this type of scenario. It really is the unknown of what’s next for us. It certainly requires being flexible and nimble.

Q. What advice do you have for the campus community about COVID-19?

A. Heed the guidance from our health officials. We need to make some temporary adjustments, but that will help us in the long run. Let’s keep in mind those who are working aggressively to combat this virus in the health care community and others. We certainly want to lend support to them to combat and overcome this. We will get through it. It’s going to require us coming together. And so far, the Carolina campus community has done that, and we’re very appreciative of that.