Brianna M. Williams

Brianna M. Williams

  • Hosted by Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida
  • Sponsored by Disaster Resilience Program
  • Service location Orlando, Florida
  • Law school University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law
  • Issue area Disaster Response and Preparedness
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Brianna worked to prepare the Central Florida area in the event of a future weather-related disaster. She also aided in efforts to serve the region as it endured some of the worst economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing free civil legal services and free community education opportunities.

In addition to being an area that experiences frequent weather-related disasters, Central Florida has also been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment in the area is heavily tied to the tourism sector. When Central Florida employers downsized their companies or shut down altogether due to the pandemic, whole communities were left jobless, leading to a higher number of civil legal issues. Brianna aided in the stabilization of the Central Florida community by assisting with those civil legal issues. Furthermore, Brianna aided residents of Central Florida in preparing for the upcoming hurricane season and provided counsel to residents following any future disasters. An essential part of this project was to educate community members so they knew how to be prepared for and respond to a disaster. Briana also aimed to make informational materials accessible to the community as they navigated the different issues that they were faced with.

When Brianna was a child, Hurricane Katrina struck the State of Louisiana and caused a flood that destroyed the homes of many of her loved ones. After witnessing the initial impact of the storm on her family, observing the inequitable recovery efforts, and seeing the long-term effects of the storm on the entire region, Brianna made the decision that she would become a lawyer and that she would use her legal knowledge to advocate for vulnerable people. Before becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Brianna worked in indigent criminal defense in Orange County, Florida, where she observed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on her clients. As a result of these experiences, Brianna knows what can happen when communities are destabilized and left without a safety net.

Fellowship Plans 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brianna provided direct legal services to residents in the areas of eviction defense, unemployment assistance, bankruptcy, and other civil legal issues that arose. To ensure community members were informed, Brianna sought to provide the local clerks of court with up-to-date guidance on the relevant COVID-19 response legislation so that the clerks could provide this information to residents with current legal issues related to the pandemic. Additionally, Brianna created “Know Your Rights” leaflets with pandemic-related information and provided these leaflets to COVID-19 testing centers. Finally, Brianna conducted virtual information sessions where she provided guidance to community members and leaders on key issues related to the pandemic.

To prepare for weather-related disasters, Brianna has:

  • Maintained a good working relationship with other disaster response organizations
  • Reviewed and updated her organization’s disaster response system in preparation for upcoming disasters
  • Created accessible materials to disseminate to community members on the importance of disaster preparedness
  • Provided direct legal services for different civil legal issues (i.e. FEMA appeals, public benefits, insurance claims, etc).

Media

Meet the 2021 Class of Disaster Resilience Program Student Fellows

Equal Justice Works Raises Visibility of Role of Legal Aid in Disaster Response and Preparedness

Disaster Legal Aid Trainings: A Disaster Survivor’s Guide to SBA Loans

Equal Justice Works Fellows to Host Disaster Legal Aid Trainings

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