When Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018, it caused a path of tremendous damage. Recently updated to a Category 5 hurricane by NOAA, the storm left destruction from the Gulf Coast through Georgia.
Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki’s April 29 op-ed in The Hill claims FEMA has been slow to provide relief to Bay County, Fla. As with any Category 5 hurricane, recovery takes years, not months. While FEMA recognizes there is still much work to be done to assist the residents of Florida, rebuilding impacted areas can only be accomplished through a joint effort by working with state, local, non-profit and private sectors. FEMA works with Florida state and local officials through the Public Assistance program to identify the best way to rebuild critical facilities.
As of May 6, FEMA has awarded nearly $15 million in Public Assistance Grants to Panama City. Of this amount, FEMA approved nearly $2.5 million to the state of Florida to assist the School Board of Bay County in reimbursing the costs of emergency protective measures, debris removal, and the repair or replacement of buildings and equipment.
FEMA is working with the school district to identify additional resources to support mental health needs. Specifically, we worked with the Bay County School Board to provide "Skills for Psychological Recovery” workshops in Panama City for over 100 teachers and staff. The workshops featured tools for dealing with mental health issues in the schools and building the school system’s capacity to help students deal with the stresses of disasters.
FEMA has established partnerships with the Florida Association of District Superintendents and the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium to develop Peer-to-Peer Mentor workshops. These workshops invite school districts from previous disasters to share their lessons learned and best practices for dealing with disaster recovery issues in schools. The workshops are scheduled for two concurrent events for the Bay County schools on June 10 in Panama City.
In addition, the FEMA Crisis Counseling Program director is working with the superintendent of Bay County schools to establish a daily schedule of counselor coverage at 40 schools in the county throughout the school year and summer programs. The counselors have also provided coverage to Head Start and day care centers in all affected counties.
Before Hurricane Michael made landfall, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency in Florida to meet emergency medical needs of the impacted communities. HHS deployed personnel from the National Disaster Medical System and an Incident Management Team to deal with the immediate needs of survivors.
To further assist residents in the impacted area cope with the stress of the disasters, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration activated the Disaster Distress Helpline. The helpline provides immediate, 24/7, 365-days-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories.
Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. The Disaster Distress Helpline is still available by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746 (for Spanish, press 2, or text Hablanos to 66746).
Rest assured, FEMA remains in Florida as communities affected by Hurricane Michael continue to recover.