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Northwest Florida lending a hand to Ian's victims

Pensacola Police.jpeg
Pensacola Police Department
Pensacola Police officers pack up supplies for Hurricane Ian victims.

American Red Cross volunteers from the Pensacola area are joining counterparts from around the U.S., in lending a hand in Central and South Florida in the devastating wake of Hurricane Ian.

Caution is also being urged when making donations.

Monday morning in Tallahassee, Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie provided an update on the assistance underway in central and south parts of the state.

“Prior to hurricane Ian’s landfall FDM positioned five teams along the projected path of the storm to immediately begin conducting rapid damage assessment after the hurricane,” Guthrie said. “We are continuing to conduct those rapid damage assessments and are in the process of submitting 32 requests for FEMA public assistance across our counties.”

Based on the prepositioning of personnel and equipment, the state has secured 100 percent category-A debris removal and Category-B emergency protective measures for 30 days.

“Because of this, Florida has paved the way for municipalities to expedite debris removal across the state; 164,000 individuals have applied for FEMA individual assistance,” said Guthrie. “We are working closely with counties to establish the mobile registration intake center and a disaster recovery centers.”

More than two million Floridians have been impacted by Ian’s flooding, home displacements, access to the basic necessities such as clean water, and power outages.

“I want to say thank you for all of the amazing efforts by the men and women at FPL as well as from across 30 states, who have come here , 21,000 strong, in the field,” said Eric Silagy, Chairman and CEO of Florida Power & Light.

He adds that they’re making “good progress” in electric restoration.

“It has been about 76 hours since Ianwhich was a monster storm, left Florida and we stopped seeing the winds impacting our service territory,” Silagy said. “Since then, we've been able to restore 1.8 million customers; 83% of all of FPL's customers that were impacted by the storm now have power on.”

Among the current challenges is rebuilding infrastructure in areas where Ian took out lines, poles and other equipment. Another, says Silagy, is waiting for search and rescue operations to cease.

“Because we don't want to end up injuring or killing a first responder who is going into a damaged building trying to find people,” he said. “So we're still facing a lot of challenges out there. A lot of debris, a lot of high water. But we're working through that from here. We're going to continue to work day in and day out until this is done.”

“The Northwest Florida Red Cross chapter led by disaster program manager Kelly Banks. She and her disaster team have been pre positioning supplies for about a week now, as well as the North Florida region in preparation for in,” said Terri Jenkins, Executive Director of the Red Cross chapter serving Northwest Florida. “About 10 Red Cross workers from the western Panhandle ae among those assigned to areas downstate to providing assistance with more expected to be deployed.”

The local Red Cross is expected to beef up its numbers in the coming days.

“Because Ian bypassed this area, all the resources that we gathered and loaded up are being sent,” Jenkins said. “There have been close to 200 people that have come across the country into Florida, mainly south and central areas, to help with the operation.”

Once on the ground in the affected area, Jenkins says the volunteers will perform a number of jobs, for which they’ve been trained and in areas where those skills are most needed.

“Anywhere from shelter operations to mass care, what we call feeding groups; and public affairs,” she said. “So there are multiple positions that a volunteer can function in and help with the operations. There's constant communication with officials, so the Red Cross will know how to go forward.”

While many are tempted to send items — food, clothing, water, other stuff — Jenkins says in situations like this, monetary donations work the best.

“Because it's the most efficient way that we can address the needs,” she said. “Very quickly, people go online and see several options where it's needed most. That's where their funds and their dollars will go to where the most critical need is at the moment that's happening, which is hurricane Ian.”

Disasters such as Hurricane Ian bring out the best in people — banding together to help family, friends and neighbors. But there’s another side of the coin; such events also bring out the worst in those seeking to make a buck or two off of the victims’ misery. Such disasters not only bring out the best in people, but also the worst. Once again, state emergency director Kevin Guthrie.

“When it comes to individuals that are coming to your home, remember volunteer organizations are free,” Guthrie said. “They will not charge you. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be careful what you may sign.”

The Better Business Bureau is out with five things to keep in mind, when planning to give to Ian relief. Tammy Ward at the BBB in Pensacola says find out if the organization has defined goals.

“What can they do? Are they able to do the temporary shelter, the food, the medical care, other emergency needs? Because that's right after the actual event. So just because the name of the organization says one thing, dive into it and see what they actually, actually can provide,” Ward said.

Does the charity already have a presence in the impacted area? Having support staff with boots on the ground are better equipped to deliver immediate help. Ward says relief experience is also vital.

“This disaster is going to have different parts, Ward says. “It's going to be the immediate need; it's the emergency thing, and then it's, uh, going to have layers of it. So you need, really, organizations that have the experience and they know exactly what to do and when to do it.”

In this social media age, “crowdfunding” – going online and setting up a method of collecting cash donations such as GoFundMe is the norm for many groups. The key, says Ward, is knowing just where and to whom your money is going.

“Some of these crowdfundings are great, but some of them are pop-ups. And I will say that Florida actually has their own,” said Ward. “And you can go on the Florida disaster website. If you really want to give, you can give to that because they are accepting monetary donations.”

One of the questions to be answered, says Ward, is whether the organization is a BBB Accredited Charity, meeting the bureau’s 20 charity standards.

“What is your board? Who is your board? Are they contributing? Do you have annual report? Are you transparent?” said Ward. “If you go on give.org, you can actually see a list of the national charities that have gone through our process for charity accountability.”

Eight Pensacola police officers are deployed in Charlotte County, and six Pensacola firefighters and equipment are awaiting a call by the state. Okaloosa County Sheriff's Department also delivered supplies and Ocean City-Wright Fire Control District, were among the local first responders to assist rescue and recovery efforts.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.