D.C. official visits Santa Rosa – aims to increase flood insurance buys

PHOTO: FEMA Representative Vince Brown, left, and Region IV FEMA liaison Larry Fordham discuss Santa Rosa County flooding issues.

Santa Rosa County had a special visitor Oct. 2. Vince Brown, a FEMA official who works in the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, traveled to Milton to plan an upcoming flooding awareness campaign which kicks off at Navarre Park in December.

Brown stressed the need for action, specifically encouraging purchase of flood insurance. Toward that end, he is working with Santa Rosa County Floodplain Manager Karen Thornhill and other officials to launch a local high water mark initiative.

Presently Santa Rosa County is one of only two counties in the nation participating in the new FEMA-funded effort to erect signage designating how high floodwaters have risen. Signage will be erected at high-visibility sites throughout the county.

“This is an outreach,” said Thornhill, who says trying to get locals to understand flooding is a big issue in our area is a challenge. She says some residents who did not have flood insurance continue the struggle toward financial recovery in the aftermath of April’s flooding event. “These things can be very devastating,” added Brown.

Assistant Director of Public Works Stephen Furman stated the county would provide labor to install the signs. “We would not want to expend money on something we can do in-house,” noted Furman, who suggested placing some signs at county boat ramps. County Grants Director suggested working with a student program at Locklin Technical Center to design the signs, which will be funded by FEMA.

“There’s gonna be some realtors who don’t like you putting these signs up,” said Don Richards, United Peninsula Association president. “People do get upset,” added Brown, who noted a pilot program ran into obstacles when trying to erect signage in a certain location but suggested the community could work out a solution.

Attendees suggested other sites for signage, including Riverwalk Park and Carpenter’s Park in the City of Milton. City planner Randy Jorgensen noted that during Hurricane Ivan floodwaters rose to the cupola of the northern gazebo at Riverwalk Park. Santa Rosa County Emergency Management Director Brad Baker noted the signs have an added benefit. “We’re promoting preparedness,” he said.

“Everyone should have flood insurance,” added Thornhill, who hopes the effort will increase the number of flood policies taken out the county. She plans to track the data to see if it rises following the campaign.

Thornhill noted FEMA wants to have at least one sign installed by the end of the year so that a launch event can be held. Attendees decided to hold that kickoff event at Navarre Park because of its high visibility and coastal location.

Brown says he hopes the signs will start conversations in community. “We would like for the community to make a step toward real community resilience,” he said.

For more information on local flood mitigation efforts visit the county’s website at www.santarosa.fl.gov/lms.

Read more in the Oct. 9 issue of Navarre Press or subscribe online here.

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