Work is underway in Santa Rosa County to help residents with property damage from severe weather, but who are ineligible for government assistance.
The program is called SAFER, Support Alliance for Emergency Readiness, and in a broad sense is the next generation of the Santa Rosa Long Term Recovery Organization which developed after Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis.
“[SAFER] is a ‘COAD’ – Community Organizations Active in Disaster,” said Administrator Dan Hahn. “It’s basically a group of organizations, non-profits, businesses, faith-based, government, individuals – that come together to support the community in times of disaster.”
The program seeks to fill in the gaps when there’s not enough damage to merit a federal or state declaration, or to receive loan help from the Small Business Administration. Long-term recovery organizations, Hahn says, have a few problems.
“Number one, they’re long-term and not indefinite; you need something that’s continuous,” Hahn said. “And also, it was for recovery only. Recovery means, you wait until something bad happens, then you come in and try to fix it. A COAD can last forever.”
Under a COAD, groups can work through all phases of emergency management – preparedness, disaster response, recovery, and mitigation. Along with the many types of disasters listed in the SAFER charter, there’s the issue of poverty, which Hahn says isn’t normally considered a disaster, but is.
“We decided to define ‘poverty’ as a local disaster; poverty will always be with us,” said Hahn. “if we can assist a family that’s in poverty; if we can assist these little pockets which are very similar to what disasters would be on a much larger scale, then we can hopefully scale that up when there is a disaster.”
One of the challenges for SAFER Santa Rosa is, you guessed it, money. Work to begin a local disaster fund began just after major flooding in April of 2014 – during which time areas having never flooded before, were flooded then.
The best protection, says Florida Emergency Director Bryan Koon, is self-protection. And that begins with flood insurance. Without it, he says, a lot of Floridians could be left holding the bag.
“The homeowners are not going to get enough money to build their homes back and put their lives back together,” said Koon. “That’s going to put a burden on charitable organizations helping to support them; they’re going to be strained. The local communities will have a real strain on them, because that’s lost tax revenue from those homes.”
The fewer people with flood insurance, the harder it’s going to be to get their communities back to normal, says Koon, who also points out a disturbing trend.
“In the last four years, Florida has lost about 13% of its flood insurance policies. That’s over a time frame in which Florida has increased its population about 500,000,” Koon said. “One in eight people have chosen to drop, or not renew their flood insurance. And that means we’re going to be more vulnerable, the next time we have a flood in the state of Florida.”
Koon recently addressed SAFER leaders and said when the next disaster hits – and it’s a matter of “when” and not “if” -- Uncle Sam likely will be coming in slower with fewer resources.
“Even if there’s a federal declaration, you’re going to have to wait weeks or months for outside money to come in,” said SAFER Santa Rosa’s Dan Hahn.
Along those lines, Hahn did some simple arithmetic to show that setting up a disaster fund is doable.
“Imagine if you could get 100 businesses or churches to give $10 a month,” said Hahn. “In one month, you’re going to have a thousand dollars. In a year, you’re going to have $12,000. All of our [Chamber of Commerce] members equal close to two thousand. Imagine if all those people gave ten dollars a month, how you could build that money up. And it’s all going to be used locally, immediately.”
More information on the SAFER Santa Rosa program can be found on its website, www.santarosa.fl.gov, on Facebook, and by signing up for SAFER’s newsletter.