“Really, I’ve lived this line of work for 30 years,” Gentry said.
Gentry is now director of the Community Preparedness and Disaster Management program at UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health, but years before, he worked as a responder to disasters all over the country.
His experience ranges from North Dakota to New York. Gentry said two disasters stand out as particularly memorable: Florida’s Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which was his first time working as a responder, and ground zero, where he was sent three days after Sept. 11, 2001.
At ground zero, he said he was struck by the sheer magnitude of destruction in an area small enough to walk around in 45 minutes.
“It took the first couple of days to get my arms around it,” he said.
Hurricane Andrew, in contrast, was memorable because of its scope — a path of nothing spanning over five miles.
Gentry said the CPDM program began as a direct response to 9/11 in 2003, and he has been leading the program since 2005.
The program, offered online to undergraduates and graduate students, allowed Gentry to use his contacts from his years as a responder. He said the experience these people brought to the courses helped give real-world examples that went beyond a textbook.