As ICF’s support for recovery continues, community ties keep Puerto Rico together

Dec 15, 2020
3 MIN. READ
Rebuilding an island is easier when caring, courage, and cooperation comes naturally

Puerto Rico is no stranger to natural disasters. This Caribbean island has been hit by about 60 hurricanes in its history—and a small handful of earthquakes.

But nothing compares to the devastation caused by twin disasters Irma and Maria in 2017.

ICF arrived on the scene in 2018 to help rebuild the island and—perhaps more importantly—to provide the tools needed to help communities rebuild it themselves. Working with the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (PRDOH) and Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience (COR3), we remain on the ground supporting these recovery efforts. For example, through COR3, we support the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) efforts, developing projects related to infrastructure—like roads, bridges, housing complex, parks, schools, hospitals, and historic buildings. And we help applicants get the grant funding they need to complete these projects.

It’s work done with a lot of pride—and a lot of passion—from everyone involved. “This is a really strong community, driven to help each other,” says Dione Laratta, who handles finance, subcontracts, and data analytics for the PRDOH arm of ICF’s disaster management team.

Everyone’s “extended family”

It helps, of course, that many on our ICF team know exactly what the community has gone through, having experienced it themselves as well. A little over 90% of our PRDOH team is native to the area, like Edgard Rivera, a case manager.

 

For our work with FEMA, over 70% of our team is local—including Eric Cruz Silva who monitors the financial performance of our subcontractors. “When you work with love, passion is reflected in your results,” he says. When he first applied at ICF, he thought it was your typical financial job “where you provide the most accurate financial information possible to help management make the best decisions possible.” It didn’t take long for him to see the big picture. “Our work helps local government diligently direct reconstruction to make buildings, homes, and schools more resilient for the next hurricane or earthquake.”

“I believe this job is the most important federal function in Puerto Rico right now, and I’m proud to be part of it,” says Eric Cruz Silva. “This work helps Puerto Rico remain the 'Charming Island' in the Caribbean.”

When your work hits close to home

Native Puerto Rican Heidy De la Cruz Soltero was home when Irma hit. She lost power and water, and traveled to the U.S. mainland shortly before Maria slammed the island. “I saw the destruction on TV. It was exasperating,” she says. She had a strong desire to return home and contribute to the recovery, which is when a friend told her about ICF. “Because I like to ‘Dream Big,’ it felt like fate.”

From our newly formed office in Guaynabo, Heidy started as the liaison between FEMA and the Puerto Rican government. Supporting grant funding efforts, Heidy worked with more than 60 public agencies to complete infrastructure projects.

“Being part of a team that supports the reconstruction of my community has introduced me to the world of public assistance programs,” says Heidy De la Cruz Soltero. “I’m happy I can educate people on how to prepare for a disaster and be more resilient.”

Preparing for the future

In many ways, Irma and Maria changed the playbook in terms of hurricane preparedness. “We created different Continuity of Operations Plans with different steps, depending on what category hurricane might be headed our way,” Dione explains.

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This includes planning for more than hurricanes. For example, late last year and in the beginning of this one, a series of strong earthquakes hit. “None of us were expecting that,” she continues. Fortunately, many of our employees had already taken the FEMA earthquake training.

Earthquake preparations are a lot different from emergency preparedness for other types of disasters. In large part because there’s little to no advanced warning. “Regardless, we need to be aware of what to do when any disaster strikes,” adds Dione. “As a tight-knit island community, we always learn, adjust, and adapt.”

Learn more about ICF’s disaster management services and find out what it’s like to work at ICF.