"Our funding is running out. At the end of March, if we haven't used the money, we have to give it back". That's Andrea Wick, the Executive Administrator of REBUILD Northwest Florida. She’s talking about the grant money from FEMA that funds REBUILD NWFL. "If we've used (the money) and we show that there's a large enough response, there's a chance we can get more to continue."
Since it began after Hurricane Ivan, REBUILD Northwest Florida has helped homeowners reinforce, or harden their homes against the wind damage caused by tropical systems. "2004, Hurricane Ivan, the worst day in the modern history of West Florida. Period. End of conversation!" said Garrett Walton, the CEO of REBUILD Northwest Florida. Back in the spring of 2014 we talked about the mission of REBUILD and how the effort began. He said business people, social service agency volunteers and faith based groups all came together after Ivan to try and "do something significant for the community. What they (ended up) doing was repairing need-based homes, helping lower income folks get their houses repaired." Once work began on those homes, they group quickly realized that they'd be right back doing the same thing after the next storm. That's when the idea of "hardening" existing homes in the region began.
Since that beginning, REBUILD Northwest Florida has hardened over 12 thousand homes in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. About 18 months ago, at a ceremony commemorating the 10 thousandth home, Craig Fugate, the Administrator of FEMA spoke about the importance and success of the program for homeowners. "It's a chance to bring them up to a much stringer standard so they can withstand the effects, particularly of wind."
When you talk to anyone about building a home to survive a hurricane, the number one factor you hear about over and over is wind. Andrea Wick says that’s what the hardening process is primarily meant to do. "It has to do with roof deck attachment, making sure that the roof is tightly secured to the rest of the home. You don't want it blowing off. If the roof blows off you've pretty much lost the home." The process also included window shutters, making sure doors are secure for egress and strengthening garage doors if the garage is attached to the home.
All of this work is done by private contractors, and FEMA pays for 75% of the work. The people at REBUILD do all of the work with FEMA so homeowners do not need to have any contact with the agency. So, now that over 12 thousand homes in the region have been hardened, the question is has the program run its course? Andrea Wick says no. "I don't think we have. I think we've got a lot more homes (in the area) that we could do. We have a lot of historic homes here. We have a lot of older homes here."
REBUILD Northwest Florida will continue operating until the end of March, 2016. If there is still a need, they will apply for more funds from FEMA, but those are not guaranteed. If you would like to apply to have your home hardened, go to rebuildnwf.org.