Our Areas of Focus
During the first month of the semester, a subgroup of students began interviewing Puerto Rican people. This included family and friends of a student in class, a principal of a school in a rural and mountainous area, and an engineer in an urban area. There were also a collection of first hand accounts written by Puerto Rican people which described their experiences after the storm. The purpose was to understand the experiences of those affected by Hurricane Maria and the most important issues in regards to hurricane recovery. After also conducting independent research, a common set of problems emerged. Many of the problems fit within at least one of these broad categories: energy infrastructure, communications, supply distribution, transportation, and economics and funding.
Many of the people who we interviewed and first hand accounts we read stressed the importance of better energy infrastructure, explaining that the absence of power (which ranged from a few months to a year, depending on where they live in Puerto Rico) affected every part of their lifestyle: their school, work, food, water, travel, and much more. Without power, little work on the island could be completed, meaning the recovery process was severely delayed. This is why the issue of energy infrastructure became our top priority. Another issue that is directly related to energy infrastructure is communications. For over two months after the storm, people had no way to communicate with others due to a major communication blackouts. Almost every cell tower and power line was down. Radios and television networks were unable to broadcast information. Overall, Puerto Rico and its people were isolated from the rest of the world. Not being able to communicate with loved ones in and out of Puerto Rico caused a lot of stress for the survivors of Maria and their families. Because of the effects on the mental health of the residents of Puerto Rico, the issue of communications became a priority.
Supply distribution is crucial to people’s day-to-day lives and well-being after a storm, as it affects people’s access to food, medication, clean water, fuel, and other essentials. The lack of access to these things caused physical and mental harm to people and prevented them from getting back into their routines. Like energy and communications, supply distribution and transportation are intertwined. Supplies cannot be delivered to the necessary locations, and those who need the supplies cannot travel to get them, due to damaged roads and a lack of public transportation.
Mission 2023 is committed to addressing these priorities (energy infrastructure, communications, supply distribution, and transportation & housing), with an additional fifth focus to address economics and funding in our plan, as stable funding is essential to the sustainability of any proposed solution. There is overlap between the sections, as some problems are related to multiple categories. There are many other issues and barriers that prevent Puerto Rico from having good resilience, response, and recovery from storms such as Hurricane Maria. However, we believe that with improvement in these four areas, Puerto Rico will come to have efficient, equitable, and sustainable hurricane recovery.