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10 Lessons Learned from Hurricane María

Before memory fades, I think is proper to reflect on the effects that Hurricane Maria had on PR. It affected all our infrastructure, green, and grey; transformed our lives and made evident some “inconvenient truths” that we had opted to ignore. Let’s make this an opportunity to improve on how have done our things in the past, so that we can significantly improve for our future.


Lesson 1: We should prioritize the development of our existing urban centers over suburbia and development in the rural areas.

Although María hit us hard, everywhere, no one can deny that it hit most in the rural environs than in the urban settings. All types of infrastructure were affected. Landslides, collapsed bridges, damaged roads, lost of water, power and communications were some of the damages. But not only these damages were probably more intense, they were more difficult to repair (still many areas do not have all the basic services), they were spread out in a larger territory, and will require many months still to come back to where they were, if ever. Providing relief support proved also a more complicated logistic.

Denser urban areas, although heavily affected, proved to be more resilient to wind forces, but most important, because of the population dentist were easily identifiable as relief and recovery priorities, it was easier to make repair efforts and more people benefited sooner of those efforts. It is no wonder that power, water and communications were restored in urban center (and coastal communities) earlier than in the mountainous towns and countryside.


Lesson 2: We should prioritize the development of renewable energy systems.

Lesson 3: We should prioritize the development of individual and community based energy

Lesson 4: PR (maybe thru PREPA, APP’s or community based enterprises) should invest in the production of photovoltaic panels to democratize energy production.

The fragility and obsolescence of our electrical system (generation, and distribution) has been proved evident. The high environmental costs for PR and the planet caused by the use of fossil fuels is well documented. Are we going to repair the system again, or are we using this opportunity to start moving in the right and sustainable direction? We know we have to move to cleaner technologies of energy generation, and do it fast. Some initiatives have been tested, but mostly at the larger regional scale.

I think we have to support initiatives to generate clean energy at the individual (home systems) and community (micro grid) systems with redundancy built in to provide flexibility in the recovery in systems failure. This is the best answer for the communities living in the mountains and in the countryside. If the privatization of PREPA becomes a reality, private companies will not make expensive, non-productive investments and service to remote locations a priority.

So, how do we effectively provide a cost effective solution to this problem. PR should invest, or favor private or community based companies to build photovoltaic panels. A higher availability of this technology will help democratize energy production.


Lesson 5: PR should revise the building codes in all new construction or significant repairs, to provide reasonable criteria to create safer buildings in conformance to our delicate economy and the problems observed in this experience.

Lesson 6: We should enforce the building codes in all new construction or significant repairs, creating technical support documentation and supervision (this can be better implemented at the Municipal level).

Many buildings and houses were severely affected by the storm. The two main factors were wind forces, and water damage, and yet some water damage occurred because of windows and door failure against the wind forces.

Del Llano, P. (18 de diciembre de 2017). Puerto Rico recuenta las muertes por el huracán María: Estudios independientes elevan la cifra de defunciones vinculadas al ciclón a centenares. El País. Recuperado de

Photo taken from: Del Llano, P. (18 de diciembre de 2017). Puerto Rico recuenta las muertes por el huracán María: Estudios independientes elevan la cifra de defunciones vinculadas al ciclón a centenares. El País. Recuperado de:

Building codes can become more strict in regard to wind forces in building design. Door and window manufacturers can upgrade their designs and installation methods. Additional unrestricted flow roof drainage outlets can be installed to avoid water infiltration through roofs, or skylights, and over stressing roof slabs with additional standing water weight. That is the easy part, and we have the technical ability to achieve this with minimum effort and cost.

The first challenge is to achieve the objectives without mayor costs increases in the construction. Increased construction costs affect the clients and the builders making an collapsed industry’s recovery very difficult.

The second challenge is worse. A high percentage of affected buildings were not designed by Architects, or their structure designed by engineers. They were designed and built by common people, trained at most in the field where they learn how thing “are done” and not “why they are done that way”. Many [popular constructions lack adequate reinforcement in block walls, or slender and/or unbraced columns, inadequate wood framing connectors, etc. The big issue is ,how do we correct the situation? We need educational materials (available from FEMA, at least some extent) and a Construction Supervision Corps, or a requirement of a building inspector to monitor the construction at predetermined phases as a condition to obtaining an Occupation Permit, and power and water connections. The best way to fiscalize this process is at the Municipal level, where all construction activity is most easily observable.


Lesson 7: PR should develop a comprehensive database containing all trees species, endemic or imported, with all the principal characteristics of the species and growth patterns.

Lesson 8: We should combine the creation of aerial infrastructure R.O.W.’s with (tall) vegetation free corridors.

Many power telephone, data and cable lines were lost due to trees or branches falling upon them. The maintenance crews were not able to minimize their impact. Current procedures allow the AEE to aggressively cut branches to trees that they understand might affect the lines, not withstanding the effect on the health and structural stability of the remaining portion of the specimen. The law and the DRNA, allows such practices.

A more intelligent approach would be to develop a comprehensive database containing all trees species, endemic or imported, with all the principal characteristics of the species and growth patterns (branches and roots), so that proper selection of species are considered before planting near potentially affected infrastructure. By the same token, if an inadequate specie is within the infrastructure R.O.W., it should be removed while it is a growing branch, not a full grown tree.

If we establish the creation of (tall) vegetation free corridors along aerial infrastructure R.O.W.’s, and we monitor their conservation, will limit the impacts of trees on aerial infrasctructure and at the same time eliminates the need to massacrer grown up trees.


Lesson 9: PR is a poor country. We cannot wait for others. We have to fix it ourselves. Its urgent.

We were all faced with this reality. Our infrastructure is in decay, and we can’t fix it. Our people had very poor housing conditions, and now, they are even worse. We have many people in need of medical or elderly support, and we are not providing it in an adequate manner. There is food shortages for a significant portion of our population.

We need to increase production in all sectors of the economy, but we have to realize the importance of agriculture for self sufficiency and for exportation. We have to foster entrepreneurship and exports.

We have to fight for the abolition of the cabotage laws to help reduce costs of goods to our people and our prices when we export.


Lesson 10: Never underestimate the human quality, the heart, the solidarity nor the creative capacity and hard work capability or our people.

We have seen the best of us during this crisis. Our solidarity with the lesser Antilles, and with our people in disgrace. The solidarity of our own living abroad with our island. We have seen people inventing washing machines, electrical systems, bridges, etc. in the middle of the worst conditions.

Let us be thankful of the help provided by the people and the government of the US. But realize the it is our WORK that will takes from here into our future.

We are a great nation of good people. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


ESCALA • Corchado + Arquitectos A Socially Responsible Architecture of Sensibility and Relevance | When we do so, we, together with our clients, make a great contribution to society and our future generations.

Equally important is understanding the importance of the environmental concerns while designing your next project, and becoming aware the though good design your project, your neighborhood, your city, your country and your planet become a better place to live. Become aware of THE VALUE OF DESIGN.


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