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Be Ready When Disaster Strikes

Greg Strader, Executive Director of the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies, helps Florida communities establish a "culture of preparedness" so they are ready when disasters happen.

It has been my pleasure to serve as the Executive Director of the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE) since its founding in 2006.  Thirty-two years of service with the American Red Cross and then as the Escambia Long Term Recovery Coordinator following Hurricanes Ivan & Dennis provided great preparation for supporting 450 Partners as we strive to make our community the most disaster resilient in America.  We provided survivors of Hurricanes Ivan & Dennis with over $1.3 Million in housing assistance after the end of the FEMA temporary housing mission.  BRACE donated modular housing to 88 pre-disaster renters allowing them to realize the American Dream of home ownership. 

In the anxiety provoking hours prior to landfall of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 over 85 first responder employees of Escambia County, the City of Pensacola and Escambia Sheriff’s Office learned that their plans for the care of their children had failed. They faced the terrible choice between caring for their children and probably losing their jobs or reporting to their emergency duty station and deserting their children. We are working with over a dozen BRACE Childcare for First Responder Partners to ensure first responders in our community never face that choice again. The BRACE coordinated Childcare for First Responders shelter ensures that emergency workers may give their full attention to disaster duties knowing that their children are in a safe environment, supported by experienced childcare professionals, well fed and secure.    

We have been supporting efforts by government at all levels to establish a culture of preparedness.  BRACE has conducted two Youth Emergency Preparedness (YEP!) expos during National Preparedness Month (September). Those expos have allowed BRACE to reach an audience of over 90,000 residents with disaster and emergency preparedness messaging thanks to the support of BRACE’s many media partners.  The expos engaged over 800 youth in interactive, educational activities designed as service learning opportunities.  In March 2011 BRACE introduced the Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) curriculum at Escambia County High School, training 43 youth in emergency preparedness, fire safety, first aid, light search & rescue and other skills that will allow them to be support safety efforts at their school.  We have met with principals of every public high school in the County to make the Teen CERT curriculum available throughout the entire county.

We are addressing the life sustaining needs of persons with Special Needs, Functional Services Support Needs and the Homebound.  BRACE is coordinating the efforts of 44 committee members representing 37 Partner organizations to enhance the availability of emergency services for the community’s most vulnerable citizens. Those Partners are supporting the 57,000 persons in Escambia County by preparing to address their emergency needs and assist the estimated 90,000 individuals with Functional Needs in accessing support services when disasters strike.  BRACE has partnered with Escambia County Emergency Management and the Escambia County Health Department to optimize the utilization of a HIPAA-compliant database system that identifies the location and needs of individuals unable to care for themselves during an emergency. Emergency Management has agreed to allow BRACE’s registered Homebound Partners to draw food, water and other emergency supplies from the Government Points of Distribution by the truckload to distribute to vulnerable residents during major disasters. As the Past President of the local homeless coalition I know addressing the emergency needs of the homeless presents many challenges. We partnered with Volunteer Florida through their BEST Neighborhoods program to work with service providers to register the pets of the homeless and inoculate them so that they may be sheltered at the same facility as their homeless owners during time of disaster. 

BRACE serves as an instrument of Emergency Management as the Citizen Corps Coordinator for Escambia County, the City of Pensacola and Town of Century in Florida.  We are designated in the local Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan as Lead for Emergency Support Function (ESF) 15 - Volunteers & Donations and support Mass Care and Economic Recovery efforts.  Within 30 hours of the activation of the local Emergency Operations Center for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill we had recruited, registered, oriented, deployed and coordinated over 950 volunteers.  We utilized Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Citizen Corps, CERT & Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to coordinate the pre-impact clean-up of over 32 linear miles of beaches in Escambia County Florida of unnaturally occurring debris.  By the end of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill activation we had coordinated the service of over 1,900 volunteers that provided in excess of 10,000 hours of volunteer service.  We also played a key role in educating the public about the hazards associated with the oil spill.  BRACE utilized its network of 61 Faith-based Partners to provide one or more of 12 emergency services during response and recovery from the BP Deepwater Horizon incident as we will for other major emergencies.

The efforts of BRACE were recognized by FEMA in 2009 with an award for “Preparing the Public.”  In 2010 our efforts were recognized through a FEMA award for coordinating an “Outstanding Citizen Corps Council.” We have been notified that our efforts will be recognized by FEMA with their top award for “Promising Partnerships” at a ceremony in Washington D.C. in January 2012. 

Greg Strader is the Executive Director of the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies.