Effective communication starts with what is taught to students and communities about hurricanes, resiliency, and preparedness. We propose that an improved education plan be implemented in schools and community centers for preparation and recovery. The curriculum would detail practices on collecting and preparing supplies, how to make communities and homes more resilient, and how to stay safe during the hurricane. It would also help communicate about any financial, food, and housing (both temporary and permanent) assistance programs that are in place before the disaster through media (television, pamphlets, etc.), schools, and community centers. This curriculum will serve as a centralized way to communicate effectively with community members. This will also help to ensure that details are specific and relevant to each community and are communicated by those who are knowledgeable of each community and situation.

Training Programs and Curriculum

Another important aspect of this education plan is encouraging training programs on how to use (and maintain) new technologies that are pivotal to communication during a hurricane—as noted by other sections in our proposal. This could also tie in with the communications proposals on the use of satellite-based phones, radio systems, and Project Loon, along with other proposals, such as solar powered generators, that involve building and/or using new technologies. Price gouging (the practice of “taking advantage of a declared disaster by charging an exorbitant or excessive price for fuel, medicine, or any other necessity”) is common in disaster-prone areas, as businesses or individuals know that those affected will be desperate for necessary aid. [1] By emphasizing methods to detect those scams and provide local resources for necessities in the case of disaster, communities can help protect each other against greater loss. This can be done through media (television, pamphlets, etc…), like running infomercials about how to avoid price gouging scams.

Currently, households stock up on important resources and place metal grates to reinforce their homes prior to hurricanes. Municipios could also send additional pamphlets to residents about how to prepare an emergency kit, updated and effective home resilience strategies, along with detailing mental health programs that are available. PSA campaigns and posters can also be placed throughout municipios in public spaces detailing information about hurricane preparation strategies and potential hurricanes coming. A part of this education plan would be to make this hurricane preparation curriculum, pamphlets, and infomercials readily available [2] to communities in Puerto Rico via the Internet and community centers.

Figure 1: Retirement community in Rio Piedras helping elderly cope with emotional stress.

Mental Health

A large part of the communication issue in Puerto Rico is the impact of hurricanes on mental health. The effects of Hurricane Maria on the mental health and wellness of Puerto Ricans are still palpable two years after the fact. [3] A large aspect of this curriculum could include detailing what mental health support systems and services are available for children through schools, along with the community at large through community centers. Making sure that these resources are accessible to the community is a vital part of recovery and resilience. In the future, communities will have a strong network of mental health support before and after hurricanes. Above is a photo of a retirement community in Rio Piedras of volunteers working to help the elderly learn to cope with emotional stress. [3] Programs like this could also be implemented in schools and community centers. These programs will be focused on breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health by discussing mental health and providing resources to help with mental health.

Future research may need to be conducted to see what means would be the most effective for reaching out to each community of Puerto Rico, since each community is unique and therefore different means and strategies may be implemented in different areas. Funding for the education plan may be provided by Puerto Rico’s government since this would involve the education and school budget. Additional funding for this proposal may involve getting an NGO to fund a randomized control trial in order to see/demonstrate the potential effects and drawbacks of adding hurricane training in all public schools. NGOs can also fund the implementation of these PSA campaigns.