7 COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: PREPARE FOR ACTION TOGETHER
Communities are the backbone of society. Even when households carry out their individual plans, people come together when they live in a shared neighborhood and have common concerns in terms of safety, housing, and services. Engaging communities to establish an emergency protocol that could apply before, during, and after the emergency is one of the best ways to prepare against adversity.
The aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria has shown Puerto Ricans and people all around the globe that there is nothing more resilient than community bonds. Every person and family that went through these natural disasters can share a story on how a friendly neighbor threw an extension cord over to share power from their generator, how their community came together the day after the storm to clear up debris off of the streets, or how their neighborhood organized potlucks to share the food they had on hand.
In many cases, especially in communities around the mountainous central region of the main island, community groups provided first response and aid to impacted families, and they even helped save lives. One reason behind this is the fact that many municipalities were cut off from main distribution areas, not only because telecom failed, but also because fallen trees, electric poles, debris, and landslides blocked main roads. In more extreme cases, bridges that functioned as the sole access points to some communities caved in and fell, consequently isolating hundreds of families.
Community groups have also had an important impact in the long-term recovery of hundreds of families. Many of them, some working under non-profit organizations and religious congregations, transformed into relief brigades offering aid across the island in the form of food, supplies, water, medicine, shelter, and support for reconstruction. In fact, dozens of community groups that made a significant contribution to Puerto Rico’s recovery are not residents: many groups of Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States and beyond organized aid from afar, demonstrating that community bonds know no frontier, surpassing any and every physical distance.
In the end, these times of turmoil became an opportunity for people across the island to get to know or develop deeper relationships with their fellow citizens and harness the power of mutual solidarity. To avoid dependence on governmental or any external aid, the best way to harness both short- and long- term resilience is to ensure health and safety across Puerto Rico and beyond through community empowerment.