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Florida Department of Children and Families prepares for hurricane season

9:00 PM, May 17, 2013   |    comments
Florida Department of Children and Families workers test the "Food for Florida" program.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The official start of hurricane season is just two weeks away and the Florida Department of Children and Families is taking action to be ready.

DCF workers conducted their annual disaster preparedness drill in Tallahassee on Friday.

It's intended to give them a chance to test technology and procedures so they can respond quickly and effectively after a hurricane or other disaster.

The agency tested its Food for Florida program. The last time DCF activated the program was after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and it did not go very well. There were long lines and storm victims complained about the slow response.

DCF Deputy Secretary Suzanne Vitale said the emergency benefits system was very paper-intensive back then and now it's mainly online.

"It's been since about 2005 since we've had a hurricane, thank goodness, in the state of Florida. People look to the Department of Children and Families to be prepared and ready should a disaster happen and that's what this is all about."

Vitale said it would take a couple of weeks for people to get emergency benefits eight years ago. Now, she said it takes just a few days.

Emergency food assistance is different than Florida's food stamp program. Vitale said DCF issues assistance to disaster victims by issuing them electronic benefit transfer cards.

"It's a really quick process now and it's there to be able to help people who maybe lost food in the refrigerator, or lost everything in their house. It's really about emergency assistance."

DCF also practiced its fraud prevention efforts during the exercise.

DCF Public Benefits Integrity Director Amanda Huston said there are always some people who try to rip off the system after a disaster, so the agency is updating its procedures.

"Unfortunately there are those folks who use disasters scenarios to try to get benefits that they're not entitled to and we're always evolving and changing our programs to adapt to the new schemes that are out there and so we're constantly watching trends."

Dave Heller

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