The Florida panhandle received the attention of the NAACP Florida State Conference this past week with a focus on the northwest Florida flooding disaster. The NAACP Florida State Conference, which represents all of the NAACP Florida Branches from Miami to Pensacola, sent Lewis Jennings, the State Conference Area Director for the panhandle, to build a collaborative relationship in support of FEMA’s recovery efforts this past week in Escambia and Okaloosa counties. Jennings was accompanied by Dr. John Veasley, the NAACP Pensacola Branch President and a representative of the Pensacola Voice Newspaper.
The NAACP and media representatives were met by Greg Desrosiers, the FEMA Intergovernmental Affairs Manager for Escambia County, Carmalla Coley, the Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) Branch Manager, Jack Heesch of External Affairs, and Lesli Remaly-Netter, Volunteer Agency Liaison. The FEMA management team described the operations of the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center located at the Brownsville Community Center at 3100 West DeSoto St. in West Pensacola. The presentation included the steps that a resident takes to register with FEMA, obtain a case number, and begin the case management process with an interview with FEMA staff. the briefing included a presentation by Carmalla Coley on the work being accomplished by the Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams that have spread throughout Escambia County responding to the needs identified by the preliminary damage assessments completed by the Escambia County disaster recovery personnel. The FEMA managers were very complimentary of how Escambia County provided them with the information gathered before their arrival in Pensacola after the Federal Emergency Declaration was made.
Lewis Jennings, the NAACP State Conference Area Director, articulated that the response that he is witnessing in Escambia and Okaloosa Counties is far above the caliber of service delivery he experienced after Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Jennings stated that, “FEMA was not in the hard hit pockets and low-lying areas where people were experiencing terrible problems dealing with the aftermath of the hurricanes. I had to cut tree limbs and go door to door myself helping families during that recovery effort, however, FEMA really has upgraded the service delivery from what we were presented during the meeting at the Disaster Recovery Center”. Emphasizing the analysis made by Lewis Jennings, Ms. Coley, the DSA Branch Manager, said that FEMA implemented a transformational change in its service delivery in May of 2013. New technology has added to the capability of her managing the DSA Teams assigned to neighborhoods around Pensacola and Escambia County.