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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate Bill would create emergency supply depots

By John McPhaul

Anticipating the hurricane season that will begin this summer, Independent senator José A. “Chaco” Vargas Vidot filed Senate Bill 859, which seeks to create emergency supply depots for natural disasters in strategic locations in Puerto Rico.

The measure seeks to anticipate citizen needs in the event of an emergency and so that the government can respond to such emergencies in a responsible and immediate manner.

According to the legislative piece, Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017 revealed a reality that should not be repeated: thousands of people were left without basic supplies since, in some municipalities, the available supplies ran out before external aid was received.

However, in 2018, despite the need for so many people, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized the loss of shipping crates of supplies that would have been vital during the immediate recovery after the hurricane, said Vargas Vidot in a press release.. .

Later, in 2020, while there were people facing shortages after the earthquakes at the beginning of the year, a group of citizens discovered a warehouse in Ponce in which there were large quantities of supplies and some of them had expired, said Vargas Vidot.

“lIn both circumstances, the common denominator was that there was no outlined plan with assigned responsibilities. There was not even planning of the places where the supply depots should be created, no person was in charge of the supply depots and there was also no updated inventory. In the case of Ponce, it was learned through investigations that the warehouse was not properly maintained and had no electrical power to function,” said the press release.

Similarly, during these emergencies, it was confirmed that the topography of the central area of Puerto Rico and the location of the municipal islands cause emergency aid to arrive days late after a disaster. For this reason, Senate Bill 859 proposes that supply depots be established in buildings near the municipalities most likely to be cut off or isolated in a natural disaster.

This new law would order the Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Bureau (NMEAD by its Spanish acronym) to carry out a vulnerability study to determine the municipalities in which the permanent deposits of emergency supplies will be established. The warehouses that are created must contain medical, emergency and rescue, communication, search and rescue supplies, personal hygiene and non-perishable food equipment for at least one week.

Although NMEAD will be in charge of the administration of the depots, the agency will have to facilitate collaborative agreements so that the municipalities, organizations and communities have a leading role in their organization and operation. In terms of facilities, the Bureau will examine the possibility that the deposits be developed in disused government buildings or in properties of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) leased free of charge. On the other hand, the establishment and maintenance of the depots will be financed through the Emergency Fund created by law, and through federal funds, money from private entities and donations made to NMEAD.

Also, to avoid the same mismanagement and waste of supplies that occurred in the past, the measure will assign responsibilities and standards for the management of warehouses. In fact, the Bureau -– together with the municipalities, organizations and communities -– will establish a regulation for the administration of the depots and a guide for the use, revision, maintenance and adequate replacement of the equipment and supplies. In addition, as a transparency tool, the Bureau must use an electronic inventory system, which will be public.

“The mismanagement of emergency supplies in the past has not only been shameful, it has had deadly results. However, this should not keep us from seeking adequate and transparent preparation mechanisms, since Puerto Rico is vulnerable to the scourge of strong hurricanes and there is always the possibility of a major earthquake. Any of these events can spell infrastructure collapse, so deposits like these could mean the difference between life and death. But it is clear that it is necessary to establish responsibilities, transparency and accountability tools regarding the management of these warehouses or emergency deposits and that the communities and municipalities, who know their needs, are central in the development of these facilities. What we want is for help and resources to be truly accessible,” said Vargas Vidot.

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