San Marco East Business Association welcomes visiting first responders

San Marco East Business Association welcomes visiting first responders
First responders from as far away as Wichita, Kansas, and Pennsylvania, were welcomed at the Metro Square facilities off Philips Highway during Hurricane Dorian.

When Hurricane Dorian began its trek north after leveling the Bahamas, the First Coast was spared its wrath, but thanks to members of the San Marco East Business Association (SMEBA), a temporary home was provided for out-of-state visiting First Responders so that Jacksonville could be ready to meet whatever damage the storm incurred.

Although many in the community are unaware, Metro Square on Philips Highway has been used by the City of Jacksonville and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) four times in the past 19 years for relief staging and as a resting place for out-of-town, first-response teams when hurricanes have hit Florida. The 37-acre property is ideal because of the open space and large amount of parking it can offer as well as its easy access to I-95, allowing emergency teams the ability to quickly move into action or continue traveling with the storm.

When Hurricane Dorian was escalating to a Category 4 storm and taking aim at Florida Aug. 30, the city again asked if Metro Square could be used as a staging area for FEMA and emergency response teams from other states.

The next day, members of SMEBA met at Metro Square with District 5 City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, the Emergency Preparedness Division of the City of Jacksonville, and FEMA to review the staging process for the more than 180 first responders that were being mobilized and heading to Florida. Plans were put forth so that the staging area could accommodate numerous vehicles, and access was provided in the vacant space in Building F for the responders to set up their operation center as well as areas to sleep. They were also able to use the bathroom facilities and showers in the Edge Rock Climbing Gym. 

The first wave of responders, who hailed from Pennsylvania, arrived late Sept. 2. A second group, coming from Kansas, arrived Sept. 3. In total, throughout the three-day period, there were approximately 180 emergency personnel at Metro Square at the ready to cover any needs that might arise within a 100-mile radius.

Basim Tannous, center, who owns Palms Café & Catering, stands with two first responders and a truckload of prepared meals during Hurricane Dorian.
Basim Tannous, center, who owns Palms Café & Catering, stands with two first responders and a truckload of prepared meals during Hurricane Dorian.

Members of SMEBA, led by Bryan Croft of Holmes Custom, Jeff Rosen of Chance Partners, Craig Meeks of the Meek companies and Matthew Hugo of Hugo Companies, made sure visiting and local first responders had food, additional water and other supplies, and all their other needs cared for. The Palms Café & Catering, owned by Basim Tannous, and located in Metro Square, offered catering for breakfast, lunch and to-go bagged lunches for the first responders on the site. SMEBA and Prescott Group covered all the associated costs of the effort.

“As part of the San Marco East Business Association, Prescott Group is committed to the Northeast Florida community and to our neighbors. It is our honor to provide a safe, accessible space for dedicated first responders to stage in anticipation of any emergent needs from the effects of Hurricane Dorian,” said Jud Pankey, CEO and founder of Prescott Group. “We will continue to work in close connection with District 5 Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber and the City of Jacksonville in support of all residents. We are keeping all of the communities along the East Coast in our prayers.”

Although the city was basically shut down from noon Sept. 3 and all day, Sept. 4, Tannous made it to Metro Square the morning of Sept. 4 to provide food for the rescue teams. This included lunch and dinner Sept. 4, and breakfast and bagged lunches Sept. 5.

“It is important to the San Marco East Business Association to come together and support the first responders who selflessly provided their services during this time of emergency or crisis – whether to our neighbors or other communities. We want them to know that their efforts and sacrifices are so greatly appreciated,” said Hugo on behalf of SMEBA. 

When it was determined the First Coast was going to be spared, the first responders left mid-morning Sept. 5 to head northward, following the storm.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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