Hurricane Maria Decimates Puerto Rico, US Public Safety Gears-Up

As Hurricane Maria and her Category-4 strength made landfall in Puerto Rico –a US territory in the Caribbean– the entire island is powerless and mostly flattened. As has been the case with recent hurricanes Harvey (Texas and Louisiana) and Irma (Florida, Georgia and S. Carolina), public safety assets are gearing-up for deployment to help pick up the pieces and restore some semblance to Puerto Rico.

Bolstering public safety search-and-rescue (SAR) teams from all over the nation are military branches with expertise in lifesaving operations upon disastrous terrain. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an island state with approximately 5,324 square miles of land occupied by roughly 3.725 million people.

For Hurricane Maria operations, primary responses come from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and its airborne and maritime specialties. The USCG recently logged plenty of saves during recent hurricanes, plucking people mostly submerged in floodwaters or stranded folks who sought high-ground refuge on rooftops. A few USCG Sector San Juan service members braved Hurricane Maria.

Logistical Concerns

According to Fortune.com, Puerto Rico is enduring an “underfunded health system” further impinged upon by Hurricane Irma’s fury. Per Fortune, “Hurricane Irma alone may have caused about $1 billion in infrastructure damage to Puerto Rico; on top of that, Maria could cost the cash-strapped territory and the U.S. Virgin Islands $30 billion, by some estimates.”

The havoc from hurricanes often equate to major public health concerns such as infectious diseases from contaminated water supplies and festering injuries patients self-maintain before search and rescue teams arrive and transport to a suitable medical facility. Given the brutal hit Puerto Rico sustained from Hurricane Maria, health care depots may be completely destroyed. Reports are that not much is left of the Caribbean island and, without power whatsoever, generators provide too little for far too many.

A May 2017 report by NPR.org indicated an already-deficient ailing health care system throughout Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria filleting the island state did not bode well for economic recovery it has been struggling to achieve.

Associated Press reporter Danica Coto said of Puerto Rico’s underfunded and understaffed medical community, “The health situation is such, here, that in the past decade, the number of doctors has dropped from 14,000 to 9,000.” Coto added, “[Patients] can wait up to a year to receive medical care for special conditions.”

Hurricane Maria is definitely going to compound such dire circumstances. And there are logistical public safety aspects to consider.

With several more weeks remaining in “hurricane season,” we press our hands together, pack duffels of duty gear, and go do The Job.

Puerto Rico Police

Policia de Puerto Rico –the island’s cadre of law enforcement officers– is comprised of  approximately 18, 260 cops. That figure is considerably more than the island’s populace of physicians when it maxed at 14,000 before dwindling to 9,000.

Any police agency’s website whose tab choices include “Assassinations” informs of brutal individuals among its Caribbean culture. Further, a police department which lists “Revenge” as a causal factor among its murderous crimes stats also underscores an underworld of various things–very bad things. If you are pondering “looting” and perhaps some violent behavior stemming from Hurricane Maria, you are definitely dialed-in.

Despite the criminal climate for which the Puerto Rico cops are responsible, their overall contingent is likely impacted by first-Hurricane Irma and now Hurricane Maria. Like Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, scores of cops had no homes to return to. Therefore, akin to Texas and Florida, public safety officials from all over the US are gearing-up for a trek-and-stay on the demolished island.

For a state who was just spanked by Hurricane Irma, Florida Governor Rick Scott threw his state’s resources in the ring:

I know of two former NYPD cops with whom I worked when they relocated to Florida after surviving the Twin Towers destruction on 9/11. Both are already pledged to traverse to “PR” (as they refer to the island) and aggregating cops to help for as long as it takes. With several more weeks remaining in “hurricane season,” we press our hands together, pack duffels of duty gear, and go do The Job.

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Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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