Alachua County caused quite a stir over the last few days on social media by using the county’s emergency alert system to notify citizens of the more than $30 million in CARES Act funding that was available. Typically those alerts are reserved for hurricanes, tornadoes, and the like. And while a majority of reactions to Alachua County’s post on Facebook were positive, some thought the use of the system was an overstep.
But Alachua County says they consulted with FEMA every step of the way through the process of deciding to reach as many people as possible by sending out an emergency alert to increase the number of applicants who need financial assistance as a result of loss of income related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton, just as the emergency alert system might be used after a hurricane to notify the community of food distributions, the County is treating the financial assistance as an emergency situation as well.
“We communicated with FEMA every step of the way,” Sexton said. “While we were concerned about using this, the decider for this was that it was like a food emergency after a storm. A lot of people are having financial emergencies.
The County opened that application process for individual applicants on Aug. 4th and for businesses on Aug. 10th.
As of Aug. 18th the County received more than 3,000 applicants from individuals and more than 1,000 from businesses.
According to Sexton, each time an alert about applying for funding was sent, the number of applicants increased.
So far three alerts have been issued. The signals are sent to a zone in allotted time periods, Sexton said. Anyone driving through the zone when an alert is active will receive the message.
The County focused on the Tower Road area and after the first two alerts they received over 500 applications. They scheduled the alert to activate from 5 to 8 p.m. in order to reach commuters driving home on I-75.
They also targeted the Duval area in East Gainesville and according to Sexton, “Yesterday we threw a donut around the urban core, targeting the smaller cities.”
Alachua County decided to “err on the side of helping those in need” when they launched the alerts and Sexton said those messages, “Had an enormous impact on the (CARES Act application) website.”