San Juan, PR -- As we head into another hurricane season, experience has taught us just how devastating hurricanes can be to our communities and economic viability. Less than three years ago, Hurricane Georges destroyed thousands of homes and businesses totaling more than $1.8 billion dollars.
When I look back to September of 1998, I still remember flying over a sea of blue tarps strapped to homes in the mountains of Utuado.
Puerto Rico has been built back better after Georges with improved mitigation techniques for roofing and stricter building codes for businesses and residential structures. But stronger walls and roofs are only part of preparing for a potentially hazardous hurricane season.
As in Georges, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is ready to assist Puerto Rico this year if emergency responses are needed. But the federal government can only do so much. Communities, families and individuals should ask themselves if they are prepared for another hurricane season.
A well-thought-out plan of action for you and your family can help you reduce potential hazards, damage, and injury.
- Determine your risk. Even residents living inland may be at risk for flooding and wind damage. Many communities flooded by Georges were inland also. Find out if you live in a floodplain or flood-vulnerable area by contacting your local emergency management office, insurance agent or logon to www.fema.gov and click on the Know Your Risk link.
- Take action to reduce potential water damage. Consider obtaining flood insurance and raising appliances such as the washer and dryer.
- Mitigate your home. Hurricane roof straps and shutters are cost-effective measures. Business and home owners can consult a home improvement store, contractor or visit the FEMA Web site for specifics. Trim back dead or weak branches from trees and keep debris clear from the house.
- During the hurricane, stay safe. Be sure to discuss with your family about what to do when a hurricane comes ashore. Keep children inside, even when the winds die down-the eye may just be passing over and the storm may resume unexpectedly. Evacuation may be necessary and it's important to plan a contingency route, and remember, never drive through high water. As little as six inches of water can sweep a car away.
However, the central lesson learned after each hurricane is the importance of implementing mitigation measures at the family, institutional and community levels. Working together, we can reduce the number of lives, property and businesses lost the next time a hurricane strikes.