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Op-Ed: The moment to prepare for a hurricane season during a pandemic is now

With less than two weeks to go before the next hurricane season, we must inevitably ask ourselves, are we ready to cope with the continuing consequences of Hurricane María, the challenges of the recent earthquakes in the South, a pandemic, and the possible impact of a hurricane in the coming months?

Strong emotions can surface as we reflect on our reality in the face of the new hurricane season. However, we must remain calm and be prepared.

At this time of year, various entities in Puerto Rico would usually participate in simulation exercises and training to support the communities’ preparations for the season.

However, in the COVID-19 scenario, with physical distancing and quarantine efforts, the government, the non-government sector, the private sector and community-based organizations must all rethink these preparations and the response to a possible emergency.

Many of the strategies we practiced in the past cannot be carried out in the current context as they would counteract the efforts to contain the coronavirus.

For example, community centers and schools that normally shelter those affected during emergencies may be a less viable alternative due to the risk of the virus. Food and drinking water distributions will be even more complex, and access to vital resources even slower.

Let’s also recognize the negative impact of the pandemic on our micro and small businesses. Family-scale preparations could be even more difficult if community businesses have no chance of recovering in the short term.

And let’s remember the financial burden that families are facing, which significantly limits their power to purchase goods and materials to prepare for the season. If a strong hurricane hits and the virus has not yet been eradicated, the results in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico could be catastrophic, again.

The good news is that there is still a short window to prepare and work on effective coordination. While responding to COVID-19, we must take the critical steps toward planning for the next emergency. The government must simultaneously educate communities on the effects of the coronavirus and the importance of hurricane preparedness.

The work between government and community organizations must continue to develop action plans and emergency response scenarios, especially for the most vulnerable and remote communities, who have limited access to services and who are often the last ones to receive help after a disaster strikes.

Author Karla Peña is country director Mercy Corps Puerto Rico.

We have repeatedly shown the importance of caring for the most disadvantaged families in an emergency so that communities can recover faster, and it will be no different in the current scenario.

As we navigate this new pandemic and the reality of seismic activity and unpredictable cyclones, we must examine our role in collective resilience.

Today, more than ever, it’s time to practice resilience with action, to make change our ally, and above all, to exponentially multiply the preparation and planning efforts for future emergencies at the individual, community and systematic levels.

Continuing to develop our adaptive capacities will make us the best example of resilience, and more importantly, it will give us the unbeatable ability to overcome an upcoming crisis.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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