The Office of Emergency Management staff was recently invited to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to speak at the Southern Political Science Association Conference on Resilience in Disasters. When Larimer County director of Emergency Management Lori Hodges was first hired in Larimer County, she was completing a master’s degree in Defense Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Her final thesis sought to answer the question of why some communities recover and thrive following disaster, while others never fully recover. Larimer County followed up this research in 2014 with a study to determine the resilience of Larimer County Communities. Since that time, Larimer County Emergency Management Coordinator Shayle Sabo has been in charge of developing a program called Larimer Connects, to better connect local communities, and has built a resilience program for the future. Academics from throughout the United States and the UK joined together in San Juan in January to review and discover relevant research on resilience. It was an excellent opportunity to share how Larimer County has practically applied academic research on resilience.  

The Larimer OEM Staff ended up learning much about true resilience from the people of Puerto Rico. Lori Hodges and Shayle Sabo flew into San Juan on the same day as a 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck the island. Upon arrival in San Juan, all power was out throughout the city and the remainder of the island.

It was hard to tell, however, as the airport was fully functional as well as most of the hotels within the city due to generator power. Lori and Shayle checked into the hotel without difficulty and were assured that the conference would still go on without any major impacts. During a full-day session on disaster resilience, the power would occasionally go out only to be reset by the generator a few minutes later.  Each speaker just kept talking throughout the disruption until normal operations returned. For an entire week the city of San Juan was without power, multiple earthquakes and aftershocks followed, and no one had any guarantee that services would be restored any time soon. But within the city, it was business as usual. 

Puerto Rico is just a little larger than Larimer County at 3,515 square miles (Larimer is 2,634). Imagine our population without power for an entire week. It would be anarchy. Very few businesses and offices operate on generator power and people would go absolutely crazy without access to the internet. While we hear a lot about how Puerto Rico has been affected by back-to-back disasters, and they continue to have earthquakes every week, the island has learned how to work through adversity and survive following the disaster. We could learn a thing or two from the small island of Puerto Rico.

 

Published on: 
Monday, January 27, 2020 - 1:32pm
Contact Details:

Lori Hodges, Director of Emergency Management, [970] 498-7147, lrhodges@larimer.org

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