PUERTO RICO – After the damage caused by Hurricane María last year, agencies in Puerto Rico have come together to learn how to respond more effectively when it comes to first responders right after a natural disaster. The initiative was brought by the State and Private Forestry office, from the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico.
Three workshops were held in three municipalities belonging to three different regions of the island in order to reach a broader audience and cover the different needs of each region. Participants received a demonstration of hazards attributed to fallen trees after a hurricane or storm. They also received an orientation about how to reduce those risks and correct techniques to work with different species of trees in different situations given. During the workshops, participants also learned better techniques to handle a chainsaw when working with certain species, as well as safety procedures they must complete when working after a natural disaster.
Sigfredo Faría Vega, certified arborist, taught the workshops to key personnel in the facilities of IITF in San Juan, in the Police Department at Mayaguez and in the Pontifical Catholic University at Ponce. Among the participants, there were representatives from local agencies such as: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Emergency Management Center (OMME in Spanish), Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP in Spanish), and the Environmental Affairs Unit from the Planning Office, among others. IITF and local government agencies joined forces in order to carry out this activity around the island.
After the hurricane, a great percentage of the forested landscape was impacted. In El Yunque National Forest, only around 10-15% of the canopy cover was left after the storm. Participation in these types of workshops increases the knowledge about how to appropriately handle debris, and also identify which fallen trees can be restored and which ones not for the healthy recovery of the landscape.