Credit To The People On The Spot After a Hurricane

by James La Trobe-Bateman on August 1, 2019
Hurricane damage

In September 2017 hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Homes lost roofs.  A US newspaper report said:

“…Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island – and the world. […] a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.

For many residents, the challenge of accessing the essentials of modern life – gasoline, cash, food, water – began to sink in. And government officials had no answers for them. Estimates for the return of electricity and basic services will be measured not in days but in weeks and months. For those most vulnerable, far too long…”

A couple of weeks later I had a call from a client.  They had a factory for some of their medical devices in Puerto Rico.  The factory itself was fine: it had been built to withstand hurricanes, it had hurricane shutters, it had backup generators.

The call was to ask for help with their supply chain.   This factory supplies all regions of the world.  They had factories in other parts of the world that could do some if not all of the work. It was vital for the Puerto Rico factory to be seen to be productive as soon as possible.  Or there would have been a threat of permanent closure.

Of course, that was not the first thing on the minds of the staff.  They lived in the community around the factory.  Many of them suffered severe damage to their homes, not to mention those of their families and friends.  They all had life or death things on their minds that did not include making medical devices or keeping their jobs.

So what was the best I could do?  Work out where everything in the world was, who needed what where and setting priorities for the PR plant.  So that became my job. Meanwhile, the company could send its corporate jet down from New Jersey with essential supplies.  Despite this, the Puerto Ricans who worked at that factory were more or less on their own to get themselves into a state where they could think about work again.

From a distance it is very hard to imagine the many actions and interactions going on in that community to get themselves to focus on work again.  There must have been a powerful sense of co-operation, because it was only 2 months before the factory was turning out product again. Everyone could breathe a sigh of relief.  And I admired the people of the island even more.

Who needed who most in this situation?

I say that the corporation really had to rely on the community around their factory to get their act together.  The corporation was pretty powerless otherwise. Compare this with another factory that we knew about in the Dominican Republic. Also put out of action by the hurricane.  It took them more than a year to restore production.