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Preparing for Hurricane Aftermath:  Lessons from Puerto Rico

There are a lot of mixed opinions with respect to how well government officials and agencies have handled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  On one hand, the response has been impressive despite logistical problems associated with delivering basic goods and services to the majority of the population in the island.  Reported deaths and injuries are also relatively low and better than expected.

On the other hand, recovery efforts have been slow, or even non-existent in many parts of the island, and this has caused millions of people to be forced to fend for themselves for a very long time.  While people are endlessly-arguing over the reasons as to why this is the case, the reality is that the crisis in Puerto Rico showcases some of the problems that any of us can experience in the wake of a major disaster.

Beyond 3 Days

The general rule of thumb when preparing for disaster is to ensure that you have access to about 3 days of food, water, medicine, clothing and shelter.  The thinking is that this is the average amount of time before basic services can be made available to victims.  However, Puerto Rico reminds us that there are many situations when it can take weeks, or even months, before those services are accessible to the population at large.

Consequently, it’s important to think of that 3 day survival kit as an important first line of defense, but it’s also prudent to prepare for the following weeks as well.  Do you have enough supplies on hand to shelter in place for longer periods of time?  Do you have a bug out location that is well-stocked where you can hunker down and ride out the aftermath of the crisis?  Can you fortify your bug-out-bag so that it will provide you with resources for longer periods of time?

Make sure that you’re thinking along the lines of mid to long-term self-sufficiency and coming up with some solutions in order to minimally-cover your bases.

Unexpected Problems

There will always be unforeseen complications and unexpected problems to contend with in the wake of a disaster.  Did you know that only one hospital on the entire island was fully-operational three weeks after the hurricane struck?  Did you know that there is still a shortage of medical supplies and medication?  Did you know that it’s been next to impossible to transport healthcare workers to various parts of the island in order to set up makeshift clinics?

Access to safe drinking water has also been severely-restricted weeks after the storm as well.  Supplies can not be distributed around the island, and people are being forced to get water from contaminated sources.  The local government was even forced to open up a well that is situated at a site that was closed by the EPA due to contamination, and nobody really knows whether or not that water is safe.  Couple that with a lack of water-purification options, and you have a recipe for disaster that has the potential to make thousands of people sick.

Power is only available to a small fraction of the population, phone service is minimal at best, and roads are still impassable.  The devastation of the island’s infrastructure has made it all but impossible to connect people to essential survival resources.  Consequently, people are being forced to either fend for themselves or migrate to areas where those services are available.

These are just a few examples that illustrate how important it is to prepare for this type of contingency.  It’s safe to say that many people had no idea that things would become so difficult for so long.  Unfortunately, those who weren’t prepared are the ones who are the most-vulnerable and will probably suffer the most.  Don’t be one of them.

Make sure that you have a good plan in place that will allow you to be as self-sufficient as possible in the event that you face a long-term crisis.   We should all take a good and hard look at what’s happened in Puerto Rico, because it serves as a reminder that it can happen to any one of us with little or no warning.

 

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