After Hurricane Maria: The long road home
Rebuilding Puerto Rico will take years. It is a long-term effort to restore the island’s deeply battered infrastructure, from the power grid to vulnerable roadways, buildings and more.
Even four and a half months after Maria hit, Puerto Rico requires far more extensive relief than agencies typically provide. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for example, continues to provide food, water and other services—far longer than it generally delivers aid after a disaster.
FEMA has tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with rebuilding the electric grid to better sustain a future disaster. This bodes well because the rebuilding effort is being done in a forward-looking way. “If a transmission station was damaged and it’s in the flood plain, we don’t have to build it back there. We can move it,” Michael Byrne, the federal coordinating officer for FEMA, told the Washington Times.
“I think we’re in a position, the strongest position I’ve ever been in, in a disaster recovery, I would say, to do the right thing and not just build back what was there,” Byrne said.
In January 2018, aid workers in Puerto Rico met to brainstorm on the lessons learned in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Volunteers from Google, Facebook, Ericsson and Cisco as well as teams from NetHope and TacOps discussed key takeaways. See the article “Eight IT disaster recovery lessons learned from Hurricane Maria” for an in-depth look at these IT strategies, which included key recommendations:
- cultivate indigenous human capacity on the ground in Puerto Rico;
- place generators and other equipment at the ready for the next disaster;
- position pre-tested networking kits rather than troubleshooting during the disaster;
- use cloud-based technologies to establish wireless connections. Cloud-based technologies like Cisco Meraki also enable network engineers to continue to manage and monitor connectivity and traffic issues—even from afar.
- use solar-based energy sources rather than diesel (e.g., with generators).
Common goals, no fiefdoms
Shakra noted that even though volunteers hailed from major companies like Google, Facebook, Cisco and others, there was common purpose and synergy that blocked fiefdoms and infighting. “Yes, you hardly sleep, and yes, there is a lot of pressure, and there are a lot of physical demands. But it was effortless in the sense of the cohesiveness, the synergy of how everyone came together. It made it effortless because everyone wanted to help.”
Riutort spoke with a quiet gratitude as he described the importance of that goodwill and desire to help. NetHope and other groups arrived at a critical time and restored faith when the region needed it, he said.
“It was the first time I had help when I didn’t ask for it,” Riutort said. “It was a one-of-a-kind experience.”
For more on Cisco NetHope:
- Disaster recovery lessons learned from Puerto Rico
- Explore NetHope
- Check out Cisco TacOps
- Read more about NetHope from the Cisco newsroom