Monday, October 02, 2017

Puerto Rico - From the Outside in

After watching what some of the worse people on American political, media and cultural scene have done this week, let me start this Monday with what I ended last Monday's post with;
Oh, and for those who want to make political hay out of this one way or another, go pound sand you blood sucking parasite.
I feel no obligation to summarize, counter, or respond to those retched creatures one way or another. You will know them by their words, and may history judge them with the blinding lights of reason and facts.

In the last week everyone has a better appreciation for what a hurricane the size of Maria can do when it hits and island as strong and direct as it did. The nearest modern port to San Juan is Miami, a bit over 1,000 miles away. Distance, time, & logistics. That is the key. Add to it the scale of the storm, the way it hit the island, and some unique circumstances of Puerto Rico herself, and you have a unique situation.

In many ways, in the last week we have upped our game with regard to a national response. You can perhaps nit-pic on the margins, but on the large pixels - we seem to have done a good job. The challenge is now on the ground.

We find ourselves now with more supplies than the ports can handle. For the last five or so days the gritty reality of logistics kicked it - ground transport. There simply were not enough drivers and trucks ready to respond. It is ground transport that has to make it happen now.

Rotary wing assets are good for spot help and emergencies - but ground transport is the only way you can really move goods to 3.5 million people on a crowded island that even before the storm had spotty infrastructure. 

Ships providing communications, medical care, and fresh water are good - but are limited to near-shore areas in the near term.

There are no I-10, I-75 and I-95 interstate highways for convoys of goods and repair trucks to come in from neighboring States via multiple GLOC.

This will not be a easy or short fix. Here is an ONSTA report from Michael Brewer of AVERT (American Volunteer Emergency Response Team);
First impressions flying over the island were sort of a confirmation that we were in for something more than what the news was reporting. If there were a thousand rooftops littering the landscape, 950 of them were torn down to the struts, agape to the sky and rain above, with reminders of their former integrity strewn around the yards and streets. Shingles floating in sewage overflow mixed with sand and mud and the remnants of a week and a half of living in a post-apocalyptic version of Puerto Rico. It was a pretty somber first look, and all the joking and mood-lightening humor on our little plane full of supplies ended awkwardly and abruptly.

We hit the ground running. The supplies that Dr. Elizabeth King loaded into our plane at Fort Lauderdale were unloaded. The recipients of her generosity met me on the tarmac and said "We saw you on Facebook!!" That relief aid was enough to make them positively beam, and I took their camera back onto the tarmac to make sure they had pictures of it being offloaded. Someone quickly absconded with the supplies, however, and it took the combined efforts of the ladies themselves and several others to get it back. More evidence that it's a cutthroat disaster zone through and through.

We linked up with Jason Abernathy, as fine a human being as I have ever met, and a genuine humanitarian of character and integrity. We helped him load some supplies for the poorer and less-served areas and made our way out to Dorado. Those who know Puerto Rico know Dorado as a resort area on the coast west of San Juan. But if you live here, you know that like most resort towns in the rest of the world, it is surrounded by poor neighborhoods and those residents are some of the last to receive the aid absorbed by the big metro areas where it all lands. As we passed he FEMA distribution center, I was struck by how little was being done there in such a massive disaster. The activity I saw seemed "self-contained," meaning it looked as though vehicles were fueling and helicopters were moving, but only internally. First impressions can of course be wrong.

As we made our way down the highway, we saw lines of cars clustered along the shoulders trying to take advantage of the few decent cellular coverage areas. Mini-villages of cars and SUVs lined up at the edges of an electrical, invisible barrier between connectivity with the outside world and isolation. Tree falls, power lines down, and power poles ripped unceremoniously from the ground and flung against fences and buildings punctuated the statement "This will not be fixed quickly."

We made some very good inroads and have identified a place to establish a hospital. Tomorrow, we'll set about the business of taking stock of everything, making preparations, and getting these people the help they need. We will help these people. And we'll succeed because all of you have helped put us here.

We had the opportunity to ask some of the wealthy people at the airport who were evacuating their families "What's happening on the island?" They said, almost universally, "those who can afford to are leaving." I asked one resident, What about those who can't afford to? What are they doing?
"They are starving. They are thirsty. And they are dying."
That last bit is not hyperbole for some locations. As a datapoint, I am probably one of the better prepared people in my neighborhood. During Maria, all we lacked was air conditioning and in four days we had power back. I was good for food for my family for a few weeks. Not everyone has the resources or applied pessimism that I do. What if my neighbor ran out of food after 3 days w/no Publix to go to? Would I feed them? Yes. My three weeks of comfortable supplies shrinks to two weeks. Could skimp calories back to three if I wanted to - but what happens when my sisters show up at my door at day-8 without any food? What if my nephew's generator cooling his insulin supply goes out? What happens when we run out of potable water? Now, take everyone mentioned above and cut their income by 75% for the last decade - as my peer group in the FL in not in line with the average peer group in PR. You can do the math from there.

If you can clear away the mindless partisan chaff being thrown about, another week in there are some solid additional idea worth considering. Our friend Jerry Hendrix had some good points;
One area in which the Trump administration could possibly lend additional assistance would be looking at a more robust activation of its assets in the Defense Department's Transportation Command to include more heavy-lift and cargo aircraft, as well as Maritime Administration shipping to move the logistics-heavy large infrastructure items on the ocean. Everything from bulldozers to transformers needs to come by ships, and it's been decades since it was really flexed to its full capacity. This would have the dual purpose of revealing any significant weaknesses in the Transportation Command assets and readiness should we need it in a military emergency down the road.
...
One of the frustrating comments I recently received was that the Navy should have had the Comfort manned and ready prior to these hurricanes. Given that it has been over a decade since the nation suffered a major hurricane-related disaster, the argument my friend was making suggested that we should man the hospital ships each year during the three-month hurricane season. This would have cost tens of millions of dollars each year at the same time the Navy is shrinking and has less money and time to man, train and equip its combat and regular naval presence force to meet its day-to-day tasks. We have had a ship grounded and three collisions in the western Pacific over the past few months, largely due to the strain we have placed the Navy under.
I think Chris Cavas had a good idea;
Sitting in the harbor of San Juan, Puerto Rico right now is the USCGC James (WMEC-901), one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s newest, largest, and most capable cutters. The ship is at anchor, operating as a command and control center for federal response teams dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island on 20 September.

There is no doubt the James is a very useful asset in the region, where communications have been heavily damaged and are only slowly being restored. The systems on the cutter help coordinate government activities on the island and help keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency and officials in Washington apprised of what’s going on.
...
An alternative is available—another ship already outfitted as a floating command base, able to give multiple agencies and officials the kind of situational awareness and communications facilities they need. The ship can refuel helicopters, support small craft, and provide berthing and feeding facilities for hundreds of passengers. Even better, the ship has nothing else to do—meaning it can stay as long as necessary—and she’s only three steaming days away.

The USS Ponce (AFSB-1)—named for the Puerto Rican city—is an afloat forward staging base, a recently-developed kind of ship intended to support small craft, helicopters, combat teams. and commanders in a forward operating area. She is at Norfolk, Virginia, having just returned on 27 September from a successful five-year mission in the Persian Gulf. The Ponce was converted to a staging base in 2012 from an amphibious landing ship, and has been replaced by a larger, built-for-the-purpose ship. The Proud Lion—the ship’s nickname—now has nothing to do except be decommissioned and scrapped.
Nice summary from the 3-star leading the support effort.






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