Monday, September 26, 2022

USACE completes damage assessment of Puerto Rico public schools after Hurricane María

By on December 4, 2017

SAN JUAN – After assisting in the evaluation process of the damage sustained from Hurricane María at 1,131 school sites, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Infrastructure Assessment Team inspected the last Puerto Rico public school on Nov. 27.

The evaluations will be used by the island’s Education Department to decide whether it will to seek temporary repair funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), make permanent repairs or close the school.

A public school in San Juan has its trees pruned ahead of the school year’s start. (CB file photo)

“USACE only provides the technical assessment of structural damage, damage to electrical or mechanical equipment and general safety,” said Brandon Works, USACE construction manager and Infrastructure Assessment mission manager.

Some schools that suffered “minimal” damage have been able to reopen but keep children away from dangerous areas. At other schools, staff and the community have made repairs on their own, so that at least parts of the school can be reopened for students.

An English teacher compared the effects of the hurricane to a detonated bomb. “It’s not normal,” she is quoted saying in USACE’s release. Classes at her school resumed a few days after the assessment team visited the school on Nov. 22. The students “were very happy to come back,” she said. “They missed their friends and teachers. They were tired of being at home.”

“While every mission that the Corps of Engineers is executing is important, completing school assessments it is one of the more fulfilling. These assessments are provided to the Department of Education so they can make a decision to resume classes and allow children to continue their education. The children of Puerto Rico have been through a lot and we are honored to help restore some normalcy to their lives,” Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander, USACE South Atlantic Division, said in the published announcement.

“Daily, each IA team would get a list of schools to visit and conduct a detailed assessment. Sometimes the school was closed and locked. These schools were marked and revisited at another time,” USACE explained.

Puerto Rico Education secretary announces 97% of schools have opened after hurricane

Many of the schools were only “available for assessments from 8 am to noon Monday through Friday, so the window for conducting the assessment was small,” Works said. “Some schools in the mountains were difficult to get to with landslides, heavy rains and other road closures, so sometimes there were multiple attempts to get to a school.”

After arriving at a school, inspectors spoke with whoever was in charge to obtain a sense of the amount and seriousness of the damage. Sometimes there was no official translator, so the team improvised,” USACE said. In one of the schools, a child acted as an interpreter, because no one else in the school spoke English.

At the schools, inspectors would seek to find out information such as “What is the condition of the fencing around the school?” and “Does the school have power? Running water? Air conditioning?” Then they examined the damaged areas. Afterward, they would enter the information and photos into the reporting software on a tablet.

The Education Department was updated daily about the assessments.

“We were well received at each school and the staff was very helpful during our assessments. It was rewarding to be involved with the Puerto Rico Department of Education to reopen schools,” Works added.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login