The hurricane season that has just begun marks the time to implement the many lessons learned after the severe impact of Hurricane María on September 20, 2017.
One of the great lessons learned is that preparation at all levels: family, community, government and private sector can save lives and reduce the risk of losses.
The central government announced that its emergency plan is ready and reported on some of the measures taken to prevent repeating coordination and infrastructure deficiencies that cost the island almost 3,000 lives. Among these preparation efforts, it is important to have clearly defined chains of command.
Among other contingencies, they announced that there are more supply storage facilities and a plan to place people with limited mobility and dialysis patients in safe structures. They have also taken steps to identify, geolocate and relocate, if necessary, about 3,000 older adults under state care.
However, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned about the need for a list of nursing homes for the elderly and people with disabilities. Such information, which is critical for prevention and assistance in an emergency, did not exist in any central government agency when Hurricanes Irma and María struck the island, according to the federal agency.
In the area of health, doctors and funeral home personnel have been trained to facilitate the certification of deaths that will relieve pressure on the Forensic Sciences Bureau. This would allow, for example, forensic experts to focus on analyzing deaths that will help prevent potential epidemics or identify high-risk situations associated with a disaster.
Meanwhile, the Electric Power Authority acknowledges that the power grid is not prepared to face another catastrophic hurricane. They say, however, that it is in better condition for recovery. Meanwhile, there are 33 collaboration agreements with energy facilities to support the swift restoration of the grid.
In the private sector, preparation efforts in critical facilities such as hospitals, communications systems, and networks to ensure an adequate supply of medicines, food, fuel, and other equipment are vital.
During the 2017 emergency, communities demonstrated that they are the first line of neighborhood preparation and response, particularly in the most vulnerable sectors. Two years later, with valuable social capital, they must be strengthened to reach a more accurate response in citizen protection efforts, especially defenseless populations, in cases of flooding, landslides or prolonged water or power cuts.
The state has identified 359 structures that could serve as shelters. In coordination with municipalities and communities, it should haveat hand the list of risks, needs, and resources available in cases of evacuations, rescues and other rapid response tasks.
However, good preparation begins in every home. Drawing and reviewing family safety plans at a domestic level ensures that you have everything you need to spend up to ten days without access to supplies or communication. Buying essential supplies, canned food and bottled water on time helps you face a storm warning with more peace of mind.
It is also important that those who have electric generators know how to use them safely. Both in the use of this equipment and in the storage of fuel, each citizen must be careful and responsible with their families and neighbors.
Weather forecasts warn that this season could generate up to 15 tropical storms, between six and eight of them could reach the hurricane category. Up to four of those are expected to become hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, with winds above 111 miles per hour. In any case, preparation is the first and most important safety measure.