We aim to propose a long-term, far-reaching plan focusing on improving Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure, communications, supply distribution, and transportation systems, in order to improve its resilience, response, and recovery from hurricanes in an equitable and sustainable manner.
Hurricane Irma and Maria
Hurricane Irma passed north of Puerto Rico on September 6, 2017. It was a Category 5 storm with 185 mph winds. Hurricane Irma left 1 million people in Puerto Rico without power and dealt nearly $50 billion worth of damage. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria directly hit the island. It was a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds that caused nearly $100 billion in damage. Roads, homes, bridges, and vegetation were decimated. The decrease in vegetation and large amounts of water caused a series of landslides, which caused more damage to the land and existing structures. Residents experienced an island-wide power outage, where 100% of people lost external power. A communications blackout, where nearly every cell tower, radio station, and television station was rendered inoperable, made coordinating relief efforts difficult. Over two years later, Puerto Rico and its people are still in the process of recovery.
Hurricanes, as with other extreme weather events, can cause a multitude of problems. In Puerto Rico’s case during Maria, the power grid and communications systems were most immediately vulnerable. A vast majority of citizens were left without power for anywhere from a few weeks to a year, and for several weeks communications across the island and with the mainland were unavailable or inconsistent. A variety of homes, including improvised structures, were damaged, and many have yet to be repaired two years later.
Post-Maria, some people could not access critical items, such as food, water, gasoline, and medicine, due to a lack of designated locations for supplies collection and distribution, failed communications for logistics, and obstruction of roads. These and related complications resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 people. Isolation from loved ones, poor access to basic supplies, and overall uncertainty with regard to the future negatively affected the mental health of storm survivors. In conjunction with these issues, a struggling economy made recovery slow.
Based on information gathered through independent research and a series of interviews with people who live in Puerto Rico, five important areas of focus emerged: energy infrastructure, communications, supply distribution, transportation and housing, and economic development. These areas are deeply interconnected and touch on similar complex problems and considerations. However, in order to create a manageable proposal, we chose to divide the myriad issues along more general lines, via a handful of common themes. By focusing on problems within these five categories, Puerto Rico could become more resilient and recover faster from storms.
Areas of Focus
Improving communication before, during, and after hurricanes through technology and education.
Making energy infrastructure more resistant to damage, and finding alternative and portable energy sources.
Managing the delivery and supply of resources along with implementing community centers.
Transportation & Housing
Improving road conditions through debris clearance, and drainage. Along with addressing issues with low-income housing.
Boosting the economy to help facilitate other proposal efforts.
Tackling the issue of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, we realized that priorities shift throughout the course of recovery and resilience. Therefore, we created a timeline to order proposals by implementation time: immediate, short-term, and long-term. Additionally, one of our overarching goals is to address the daily struggles of the Puerto Rican people after a hurricane.
Perspectives from Puerto Rico and Timeline
Perspectives from Puerto Rico
First hand accounts from Puerto Rico that highlight the main issues affecting daily life.
Proposals organized by immediate, short-term, and long-term implementation time.