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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

FEMA conducts participatory mapping exercises in towns to boost recovery efforts

Personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency conduct mapping exercises with municipal personnel from Ponce to help them identify solutions in their disaster recovery efforts. (FEMA)

By The Star Staff

As part of Puerto Rico’s resilient recovery from future disasters, strategic planning and reconstruction projects take on greater importance, especially for municipalities with limited resources and grassroots nonprofits.

To help expand the technical knowledge of municipalities and those organizations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted participatory mapping exercises in municipalities around the island to help them identify solutions in their disaster recovery efforts.

Many municipalities lack geographic information systems or need high-resolution printed maps to carry out their planning efforts more effectively. Participatory mapping exercises allow municipal officials to better observe the potential risks and vulnerabilities that exist in the environment of their municipalities and visualize their recovery plans.

“Part of FEMA’s role is to support municipalities and grassroots organizations to strengthen their development and capacity. Mapping exercises are a tool that helps them be better prepared and more resilient,” said Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José G. Baquero.

In Ciales, the municipal mapping exercise was essential to identify opportunities that help improve urban and community planning in city revitalization and municipal recovery projects, planner Aner Cosme Maldonado said.

The mapping initiative helped reveal that all communities in Ciala experienced vulnerability, particularly the neighborhoods of Posas, Cialitos, Toro Negro, Pesas and Frontón.

Cosme Maldonado said the solutions vary according to the needs of each community, which has led to the development of projects to rebuild critical infrastructure, communal areas and basic water services in all affected areas.

“This has made it possible to make informed decisions on how to improve the quality of life of the people of Cialeños, promoting sustainable growth and resilience to disasters, and fostering economic development in the municipality,” Cosme Maldonado said. “We have been able to visualize together with the mayor the needs and potential solutions of each community, facilitating collaboration between different actors and the effective implementation of revitalization projects.”

During the mapping exercise, FEMA works with two maps of the municipality or community. Maps by neighborhoods and municipal sectors offer a spatial view of the territory, allowing officials a holistic view of their municipality. Then, on a second map, the image is enlarged to the urban center, which makes it possible to identify revitalization projects with potential for economic and social development.

As a result of the needs identified by municipalities and organizations, FEMA develops follow-up activities, where municipal officials and experts address problems such as the management of stormwater runoff; coastal erosion, riparian flooding, erosion and undermining of rivers and streams; and the processes that must be carried out to identify, designate, and dispose of structures and lots of land that can be declared public nuisances.

FEMA’s Community Assistance unit has visited more than 50 municipalities since 2018 to provide participatory mapping exercises to city officials and members of nonprofit organizations.

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