CALLAWAY, Fla. (WMBB) — As local leaders know all too well, the residents in South Florida will soon begin the long recovery process.
There are things South Florida officials can do to help them through that process.
The biggest struggle many Panhandle city and county leaders faced after Hurricane Michael was, and still is cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“So FEMA turns out to be a very very important part of the rebuild and the fix but they can be frustrating to work with and you just have to be hyper-organized,” Florida’s 2nd Congressional Congressman Neal Dunn said.
The U.S. Congressman said it seems the Peninsula communities will have an easier time negotiating with the insurance company post-Hurricane Ian, because of Michael.
“We put them through their paces after Michael,” Dunn said. “That was a real chore.”
Dunn said it’s mainly about providing the right paperwork. Those affected by the storm need to be prepared for the avalanche of forms. They also need to keep copies of everything along the way because of how FEMA must operate.
“They have to deploy teams, typically from Washington, and those teams you know they can only keep them in the field six months at a time. That’s by law,” Dunn said. “So they’ll rotate out and when that team rotates out six months out, that’s not enough time to rebuild a city. So they take a lot of the knowledge on the ground with them back there. And when the new team comes in you might have to bring them up to speed.”
Callaway City Manager Ed Cook agreed that the recovery process is very tedious. Four years after Hurricane Michael, the city has been able to work on its final recovery project at the Callaway Recreational Complex.
Cook said the ‘428 program’ FEMA pushed after Hurricane Michael created their biggest setbacks.
FEMA and the city agreed on a price, but rising construction costs quickly drove up that price tag.
“We had some disappointments,” Cook said. “You’re going to have disappointments, especially when you’re dealing with these large sums of money, but fortunately we’re happy with ultimately where we ended up and where the city of Callaway is headed for the future.”
Cook estimated FEMA has reimbursed the city between $25-$35 mil.
He also warned about the dangers of contractors taking advantage of vulnerable people. Most importantly, he said it’s imperative to have a pre-disaster contract in place before the storm.
He also said any time a city adds a new building or park, etc. to make sure they put it on insurance.
Each county Emergency Operation Center’s website or app has resources to contact FEMA.
Congressman Dunn said the quicker you start working closely with FEMA, the better off you will be.