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LR grad coordinating pandemic for Buncombe County

Fletcher Tove is no stranger to performing in pressure-packed situations.

Whether he's guiding a Navy destroyer through highly trafficked hot spots across the globe or guiding Buncombe County through a worldwide pandemic, he has the skill set to meet each challenge head on.

An Asheville native, Tove attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Navy ROTC scholarship and was commissioned as an officer in the Navy where he served as a surface warfare officer in Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Chile, Italy and California. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander during his service before returning to North Carolina.

"When I got out, I moved back to Asheville," he said. "I was contemplating doing some kind of online grad school work because I wasn't aware there were any in-person opportunities in Asheville. I saw a billboard about Lenoir-Rhyne, looked it up online and started classes about a week later."

As a student in the Master of Business Administration program at the Lenoir-Rhyne University, Asheville Center, Tove studied crisis management, contingency planning, communications, problem-solving skills and more.

"We don't talk about pandemics in the program, but we do talk extensively about contingency planning," said Dr. David Jones, chair of the Charles M. Snipes School of Business and Economics at LR. "Contingency planning for a hurricane will never rival what has happened with the pandemic, but the skill set, the thought process, understanding crisis management and how to communicate is critical."

His experience in the military combined with his new skills learned at LR put Tove in a position to become a preparedness and security officer for Buncombe County Health and Human Services.

"My naval background gave me a lot of experience in high-stress, fast-paced operational environments," Tove said. "Navigating a destroyer through some of the busiest ports on the planet, working in the combat information center during tactical moments, planning complex multi-national exercises and leading small tactical teams in boarding operations trains you to organize the way you approach a situation into tactical, strategic, operational and logistical problems and solutions.

"The MBA from LR was able to refine that, but also give me the tools and vocabulary to take my military experience and apply it to my new local government role."

In that role, a lot of time is spent planning and building relationships. Tove takes part in revising plans for pandemics, continuity of operations, sheltering, crisis situations, high-consequence pathogens, all hazards and more.

He also chairs the county's epidemiology team and is involved in educational programs such as Fight the Bite for tick and mosquito awareness month each April.

"Our response team in the Emergency Operations Center is a diverse group of public health, first responders, emergency services, government and public-school staffs," Tove said. "As a preparedness coordinator and acting as operations section chief in the EOC, I see my role largely as connecting dots between all these groups. [I] ensure that we are working toward shared goals and leverage the most out of everyone's resources and areas of expertise."

Tove and his colleagues were hard at work preparing for dire situations, such as the current one with COVID-19, before they arrive, which is partially why Buncombe County ranks 38th among North Carolina in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases, per the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, despite recording the seventh largest population in the state.

"Wherever Lenoir-Rhyne has a presence, we want to be helping that community," Jones said. "Fletch is doing that."

The Lenoir-Rhyne University Board of Trustees has renewed the contract of Dr. Fred Whitt, LR president, for a six-year term. The board unanimously approved the new contract at its meeting in November; the contract became effective Jan. 1 and will continue through Jan. 1, 2028.

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