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FEMA aids Puerto Rico towns’ recovery with mapping tools

Participatory mapping exercises help municipalities plan and visualize disaster recovery strategies.

As Puerto Rico continues to recover from past disasters, strategic planning and reconstruction projects are increasingly becoming more important, especially for resource-limited municipalities and social-based nonprofit organizations. 

To help expand the technical capabilities of these entities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted participatory mapping exercises across various municipalities on the island, aiding them in identifying effective solutions for disaster recovery.

Many municipalities lack geographic information systems or require high-resolution printed maps for more effective planning. Participatory mapping exercises enable municipal staff to better recognize potential hazards and vulnerabilities within their areas and to visualize their recovery strategies. 

“Part of FEMA’s role is to support municipalities and social-based organizations to strengthen their development and capacity,” said José Baquero, FEMA’s disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico. “The mapping exercises are a tool to help them be better prepared and more resilient.”

In Ciales, participatory mapping was essential in identifying opportunities to improve urban and community planning in revitalization and recovery projects, according to planner Aner Cosme-Maldonado.

The initiative highlighted vulnerabilities in all Ciales communities, especially in the Posas, Cialitos, Toro Negro, Pesas and Frontón neighborhoods. The exercises led to tailored solutions for each community, leading to the development of reconstruction projects for critical infrastructure, communal areas and basic water services.

“This has allowed us to make informed decisions on how to improve the quality of life of the people of Ciales, promoting sustainable growth and resilience to disasters, and fostering economic development in the municipality,” added Cosme-Maldonado. “We have been able to visualize, alongside 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 sessions, two maps are used — one detailing neighborhoods and municipal sectors for a spatial overview of the territory, and another zoomed into the urban center to identify projects with economic and social development potential.

Following the identification of needs by the municipalities and organizations, FEMA conducts follow-up activities where municipal officials and experts address challenges such as storm runoff management, coastal and riverine erosion, and the processes required to manage structures and lots that can be declared public nuisances.

Since 2018, FEMA’s Community Assistance unit has visited more than 50 municipalities, offering mapping exercises to municipal officials and nonprofit organization members. This visual methodology has facilitated the understanding, analysis and dissemination of data.

In specific instances like Quebradillas and Lares, municipalities expressed the need to address the issue of disused urban structures. FEMA facilitated discussions between the municipalities and the nonprofit Centro para la Reconstrucción del Hábitat, exploring potential solutions.

In Barceloneta, the Community Assistance unit helped develop a virtual tool to promote local tourism — utilizing platforms such as Google Earth Pro and Google Maps – working with the town’s Public Documents Office and the Ignacio Cruz Báez Cultural Center to digitize tourist interest points to include on the municipality’s website. 

The upcoming Regional Approach for Recovery workshop in October will gather the predominant needs and hazardous situations identified in the areas visited, offering specific and sustainable recovery alternatives to the participating municipalities. In the previous workshop, topics such as landslides, coastal erosion and mitigation plans were addressed.

Manuel Laboy, executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), emphasized, “One of the main objectives of reconstruction is to provide resilience to the infrastructure. The implementation of mapping technology will be key to improving the planning process necessary for the responsible development of works that adapt to community needs and that consider future risks to prevent damage that compromises the stability of critical infrastructure.”

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1 Comment

  1. William Pellegrino May 14, 2024

    Basic needs have Not béen .met siñce Hurricane Maria…My friend a disabled senor citizen lost her water heater and. A/C..(needs it to breath at nite) & refrigeraterl and the gov & Fema has done NOTHING.. FEMA is a joke and does Nothing after many requests. They are a De crase. ..The gov here In PR has done NOTHING to help the needy from the storm recovery almost 7 years later..There are many single lane roads after 7 years..


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