As a storm approached Raleigh along the Interstate 95 corridor on April 16, 2011, WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel interrupted his weather report to warn staff in the TV station’s newsroom on Western Boulevard to find shelter. Dozens of tornadoes spawned by the powerful storm had already damaged homes and businesses in Fayetteville, Sanford and Holly Springs. Dozens more would touch down in Wake County as the storm marched north across the state and into Virginia.
Across the street from the station in his dorm room in Wood Residence Hall, NC State political science major Josh Privette had his television tuned to WRAL that afternoon.
“When Greg Fishel said nonessential staff should get in the basement, that’s when I dove into the bathroom and hoped the tornado wasn’t going to come right over me,” he says.
Privette recalls that short-lived brush with disaster as he fields calls from students, parents and employees facing a calamity of another sort: the upending of their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. With classes being conducted largely online and the campus on reduced operations, it’s a stressful time for the NC State community.
“This is unprecedented for all of us,” he says. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty as we get used to a new normal.”
Privette volunteers with a team of about three dozen employees running a university hotline called the Wolfpack Response Line. The free service, available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., has been activated to provide quick, accurate information on a wide range of topics. Volunteers monitor the line’s voice mail after hours and on weekends.
Justine Hollingshead, chief of staff and assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, spearheaded the effort to create the response line three years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“We were getting a lot of calls from students who were stranded because it was spring break, and the provost said it would be good if the university had one phone number that we could use in an emergency,” she says. “We needed a central place to answer all those calls.”
The Wolfpack Response Line has been activated several times since then, notably in the wake of Hurricane Florence in August 2018 and during a snowstorm that disrupted final exams in December 2018. The line has received more than 400 calls since it was activated in mid-March for the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The questions have really run the gamut, from when is the library open to how do I get tested if I feel sick,” Hollingshead says. “We do everything we can to answer the caller’s question rather than just referring them to a website. Because of the volume of information out there right now, it’s overwhelming.
“It’s overwhelming to me and I manage information. So you can only imagine what it’s like for a student or a parent.”
Volunteers receive training and have access to a Google site with up-to-date information on campus operations, policies and resources. They work in shifts and can field calls anywhere they have a smartphone; the calls are forwarded via an app called Cisco Jabber.
The Wolfpack Is a Family
Hollingshead says the service shows the power of community. “I’ve seen it time and again, no matter whether it’s a hurricane or a pandemic, people take pride that this is NC State. The Wolfpack is a family and people want to give back.”
Privette says his involvement with the Wolfpack Response Line has shown him the resilience of students, parents and employees as they adjust to fundamental changes in how they work, socialize and study.
“Most of the folks I’ve talked to have been really flexible and really supportive and thankful for the information that we’re giving out,” he says. “As a university employee and an alumnus, it’s really awesome to be able to provide this service for our students, faculty and staff so they can make better decisions for themselves.”
Until the storm passes, a friendly voice and accurate information are important links holding the Wolfpack community together.
To reach the Wolfpack Response Line, call (919) 512-3272.
This post was originally published in NC State News.