GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico – It’s often hard to gather documents in the middle of an emergency. Now that hurricane season is coming to an end, take time to make a comprehensive disaster plan.
Having all your documents up-to-date can streamline your recovery after a disaster—including fires, earthquakes or hurricanes—especially if you need to register for federal assistance. Stored properly, they will be available even if you have property damage or flooding.
Marieli Álvarez-Ulloa, of Santurce, developed a preparedness plan before hurricanes Irma and María that not only helped her but her community.
Part of her preparedness routine included having extra food and water at her rental property. She also kept copies of important documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, Social Security cards, insurance policies, utility bills and medical prescriptions and stored them in sealed plastic bags.
When registering for FEMA assistance she had all the proof of occupancy documents required for renters such as utility bills and a copy of the leasing contract. That sped up getting help.
“Preparedness has always been a culture in my family,” Álvarez-Ulloa said. “After surviving various storms and the Nochebuena small earthquake in 2010 in Puerto Rico, I made a family plan, not only for hurricanes, but for other hazards.”
When the 2017 hurricane season started, Álvarez-Ulloa spoke to her neighbors in Santurce—near the Gandul and Tras Talleres communities—about how they should prepare for a disaster. She encouraged people with special needs to have additional medicine in case of an emergency. She spoke with homeless people nearby to let them know where to find the nearest shelter.
She kept her friends and community informed by using the social media app WhatsApp. She created a group called Orientación Meteorología, or Meteorology Orientation, with former coworkers from the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the Puerto Rico Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration.
The group relays preparedness tips, emergency phone numbers, lists of shelters and links to useful Internet sites.
“Knowing how to prepare, what to have on hand, what to expect and how to keep my family safe and healthy lowered the chances for the unexpected and helped us get through tough moments,” said Álvarez-Ulloa, who used donations and her extra supplies to prepare emergency boxes for neighbors in need.
Months later, that passion for helping her community led her to work with FEMA. She now helps others on a bigger scale.
“It is all about the survivors,” she said, “and I want to continue being part of the recovery of my island.”
To view a picture of Álvarez-Ulloa go online to www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/images/173624.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362) 711/VRS - Video Relay Service). Multilingual operators are available. (Press 2 for Spanish). TTY call 800-462-7585.
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