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A Month of Uncertainty - Puerto Rico Continues to Be Impacted by Daily Earthquakes

Earthquakes Remain a Constant Threat

On December 28, 2019 Puerto Rico began to experience a series of earthquakes. These quakes have persisted since, with the largest two occurring on January 6, 2020 (5.9 magnitude) and on January 7th (6.4 magnitude). These quakes are the most damaging to strike the island since 1918, killing one and causing an island-wide blackout.


Note: Data as of Jan. 7, 2019 10:00 a.m., ET, Sources: United States Geological Survey and Natural Earth, Graphic: Jiachuan Wu / NBC News

Since December 2019, Puerto Rico - particularly the southern portion of the island, has been experiencing daily earthquakes and aftershocks. For example, 487 earthquakes were recorded between January 10th and January 16th, 2020 - including many which were over a magnitude of 3.5. However, many of these quakes are not felt in the northern portion of the island.



487 earthquakes recorded from January 10 - January 16, 2020


Puerto Rico has remained in a State of Emergency since January 6th, 2020. Aftershocks occur daily, some being magnitudes of 4 and greater. On January 16th, 2020, President Trump approved a major Disaster Declaration for the southern regions of Puerto Rico, including the municipalities of Guánica, Guayanilla, Penuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and Yauco. The President has since amended the major Disaster Declaration to include the municipalities of Adjuntas, Cabo Rojo, Corozal, Jayuya, Lajas, Lares, Maricao, San Germán, San Sebastián, and Villalba. The approval of the disaster declaration will allow additional federal resources to support the ongoing response and eventual recovery efforts.


Why Should Organizations Care about Earthquake Risk?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) illuminates the importance of caring about earthquake risks by denoting impacts on organizations within communities. By taking action to protect employees, customers, and the business community as a whole, the economy of affected areas can remain stable, thus promoting a faster recovery and easier mitigation.


Following a natural disaster, approximately 40 percent of small businesses will not reopen; one year later, 25 percent of small businesses will close; and three years later, 75 percent of businesses without a continuity plan will completely fail.


Natural disaster effects can have lasting impacts without intervention, highlighting the importance of preparedness and mitigation plans. Furthermore, small businesses account for 99 percent of all companies and employ 50 percent of all private-sector employees.


These statistics are important, as many child care programs are small businesses. Further, many early childhood programs - whether they be private centers, Early Head Start or Head Start programs operate in leased spaces. As we have seen throughout the United States, landlords (who usually are small businesses) determine when buildings get fixed and early childhood programs can reopen. Ensuring that both your program and your landlord are disaster-ready is very important.


In order to instill resilience in the community following an earthquake, FEMA developed the Quakesmart Community Resilience Program for organizational leaders to complete a step-by-step process so that they may protect assets, sustain the ability to provide goods and services, preserve competitive advantage, and provide the ability to fulfill standing obligations to the community.


The program focuses on STAFF, SPACE, SYSTEMS, STRUCTURE, AND SERVICE.


STAFF includes planning and preparedness activities for staff members.


SPACE includes the contents of a workspace.


SYSTEMS includes utility systems and nonstructural architectural elements.


STRUCTURE includes architectural and structural elements of buildings.


SERVICE includes opportunities for an organization to engage and serve the community following an event.


The program outlines four steps to ensure the five tiers above can be achieved. The steps are as follows: identify your risk, develop a plan, take action, and be recognized and inspire others. These simple steps, along with FEMA’s Business Continuity Plan and the Disaster Resistant Business (DRB) Toolkit, can provide a successful start to recovery.


Afraid to Go Home, Send Children to School

As earthquakes remain a daily threat, it is impossible to begin recovery efforts. School and government officials, as well as citizens and private business owners, have had a difficult time determining which buildings are potentially safe to resume activities. With each new earthquake/aftershock, buildings need to be reassessed, thereby delaying a return to normalcy.


Further, the ongoing threat has impacted families across the southern region. At least 10,000 displaced individuals are living outside, many in tents. They fear the next earthquake or aftershock may cause the collapse of their home - so sleeping outside is viewed as a safer alternative. These ‘tent cities’ as they are being called - come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and support. Some are organized by local governments, others are staffed by members of the National Guard/military and others are community or neighborhood-based efforts.


Assets of the U.S. Army reserve from Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico have been activated to support relief and recovery efforts on the island. Around 150 soldiers have been deployed to provide laundry and shower services for civilians at five locations along the southern coast, where earthquakes have been clustered. The locations include Ponce, Peñuelas, Yauco, Guanica, and Guayanilla, which are each capable of holding 1,000 to 1,500 people. Each facility has laundry systems capable of washing 400 pounds of laundry per cycle, as well as two shower systems capable of accommodating 500 people per day to ensure proper hygiene and prevent disease-spread.