56 percent of the people who participated in the survey estimated that central government agencies failed ("F") or had a poor performance ("D") in dealing with the emergency caused by Hurricane María in Puerto Rico.
This percentage would rise to 80 percent if those who graded the central government's response as mediocre ("C") are taken into account, as reflected in a special section of the Behavioral Study by Estudios Técnicos and the Puerto Rico Sales and Marketing Executives Association.
Perception is not very favorable either for federal government agencies. 44 percent gave "D" or "F" to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Similarly, four out of ten (39 percent) Puerto Ricans gave similar grades to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Private insurers were also among the worst-graded sectors with half (52 percent) of the people expressing a negative opinion. Municipalities were rated the same by 41 percent of the respondents.
Those who passed the test
Only non-profit organizations and the media got positive grades. 59 percent of people understood that these community entities had an excellent ("A") or good ("B") performance during the emergency. In the case of the media, 56 percent of the respondents gave this positive grade
"Nonprofit organizations had an unprecedented growth during the emergency following hurricanes Irma and María in Puerto Rico. This Estudios Técnicos study shows that our people recognize this monumental help of thousands of volunteers from those community-based entities that were on the streets from the first day to provide water, food, and literally open roads for the recovery of communities," noted the president of the Puerto Rico Foundations Network, Rafael Cortés Dapena.
"This was an unprecedented event and social and communication structures failed. It was the communities who came together to respond, both formal and informal organizations," said Anitza Cox Marrero, director of Social Analysis and Policy Division of Estudios Técnicos.
Yesterday, it was not possible to get an opinion from La Fortaleza, the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance or FEMA regarding the results of the survey. Those organizations and unions that did respond agreed on the fact that Hurricane María was one of the most intense and damaging in the history of Puerto Rico.
"Hurricane María is the greatest natural catastrophe in Puerto Rico´s modern history. I could not give myself a grade or express that a "C" is representative of the work carried out by municipalities in response to the emergency. What I can affirm is that I recognize that most mayors were the best example of leadership that has been seen in Puerto Rico," said the president of the Mayors Federation (which brings togetherNPP officials) and Arecibo Mayor, Carlos Molina.
"If you come to Cayey, citizen’s satisfaction regarding the management of the services of hurricane, is an 'A'. That is my perception in most of the municipalities," said, on the other hand, the president of the Association of Mayors (which groups popular officials) and mayor of Cayey, Rolando Ortiz.
Meanwhile, Iraelia Pernas, executive director of the Association of Insurance Companies (ACODESE, Spanish acronym), said that this industry has already paid 89 percent of the claims associated with the hurricane.
"Never before had we faced anything like this. There are 262,000 claims filed up until May 30, 2018. The industry has paid 89 percent of those claims. We are talking about an amount of over $ 3 billion. Given the magnitude of the emergency, we have to think that there will always be someone who has not completed the claim and will have a bad impression of the industry, but I believe that once the process ends the perception of the industry will be good," said Pernas.
The lesson to be learned
For the former emergency management director in Puerto Rico, Epifanio Jiménez, the problem was that many government entities and private organizations called to respond in an emergency underestimated the danger posed by the hurricane and were not prepared enough to face the catastrophe.
"The hurricane (María) was the worst of the scenarios possible and that is what you have to prepare for ... Here failures were everywhere. I think most of them underestimated the hurricane," Jiménez said.
According to the former official, the only way to avoid repeating this situation in the future is through training and drills to evaluate the response to an emergency.
"To improve, you have to work and the worst of the scenarios possible. I think the issue is preparation and practice. Heads of agencies and all emergency personnel have to be trained and it has to be ensured that they can react," said Jimenez.
The Estudios Técnicos executive explained this year, questions related to the hurricane were added to measure, mainly, the cyclone's effect on the telecommunications industry.
Usually, this study measures the behavior of Puerto Ricans on digital and mobile platforms.
"The idea was to have the profile of the post-María consumer in very particular aspects of access to digital media and other instances. In that evaluation, we included others from entities beyond the telecommunications industry in order to be able to better evaluate the results," said Cox Marrero. Telecommunications companies had a general grade of "C", according to the study.
The survey also reflected, forexample, that 17 percent of respondents changed internet providers in their homes after the storm. Similarly, 17 percent indicated that they spend less time online after the hurricane.
They also specified the use of telecommunications as services on the island were normalized. For example, 71 percent said they used the internet to communicate with their families and 46 percent said they wanted to find information about the disaster.
Only .2 percent of respondents said they used the internet to search FEMA information, even though during the first few days after the hurricane the only way this agency accepted requests for individual assistance was by filling out an online form.
Issues related to the damage caused by the atmospheric system were also addressed in those additional questions.
For example, it is specified that 58 percent of respondents suffered property damage, while one in 10 (9 percent) lost income during the emergency.
On the other hand, one in five of the respondents (21%) perceives moving at least as "likely" as a consequence of the damage caused by the cyclone. However, it is not detailed if that move would be within Puerto Rico or outside the island, as tens of thousands did in the months that followed the natural disaster.
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