Fortunately, Hurricane Dorian´s path in Puerto Rico did not represent a direct impact to our island, however, it did bring the urgent need to prevent, adopt and maintain measures required to ensure the supply of food and high-demand products during an emergency.
Hurricane preparation plans in stores and supermarkets seem like an adequate response to prevent interruptions in the supply chain and the shortage of goods, especially in August and September, the peak months of the hurricane season. They also show how a new culture of prevention is consolidating and beginning to take root in the business sector.
This has been recognized by the island´s food industry leaders, such as the Puerto Rico Chamber of Marketing, Industry and Distribution of Food (MIDA, Spanish acronym) who, based on the lessons learned from Hurricane María, say they have taken the necessary precautions in key areas such as electricity generation, fuel and water supply, and telecommunications, to ensure the uninterrupted continuity of their operations.
Many businesses identified the urgency of adding redundancy to their independent electricity generation systems in order to keep their doors open with products on the shelves. The timely purchase of electric generators and the creation of fuel storage spaces will allow them to offer customers those basic products that require refrigeration when an emergency is expected to happen.
Likewise, business leaders say that they have reviewed replenishment systems, including distribution pre-agreements with some suppliers to allow the continuous flow of essential products even after an atmospheric phenomenon.
We should also highlight efforts by food companies to have alternative forms of communication if telecommunications go down. Implementing these systems protect our usual daily transactions. Keeping these channels open and banks operating will make it possible for customers to access their funds and for stores and supermarkets to carry out transactions, avoiding further damage to the economy.
These technological protections are especially important for two large groups –Social Security pensioners and Nutrition Assistance Program participants – who receive electronic monthly payments and use them to buy food.
As we import 80 percent of what we consume on the island, we are very vulnerable to cyclical events such as hurricanes, with hurricane seasons that last from June 1 to November 30. And on top of that, almost all the products consumed on the island enter through the port of San Juan. This reality imposes on state and federal authorities the obligation to coordinate efforts that will allow the efficient arrival and fast distribution of food to stores and supermarkets.
These measures, aiming at adapting resources to the new scenarios we learned from María, benefit citizens in the short term. However, in the long term, Puerto Rico must strengthen access to food by promoting local agricultural, fishing and food production sustainable projects. There is an urgent need for greater awareness of this situation, including the creation of home vegetable gardens that contribute to food security of individuals and their families. It is an excellent opportunity to continue rethinking and recreating the Puerto Rico we want, firm, supportive and back on its feet.