Teaching Homeowners Hurricane Resilience in Puerto Rico

Jill L. Ferguson

In an effort to make Puerto Rican homes more resilient to future hurricanes and earthquakes, Team Rubicon partnered with Mercy Corps and Build Change for a two-day workshop on December 10 and 12 to teach homeowners how to reinforce their existing homes through a variety of methods. The two-day training included a full day of theory, instruction, and discussion in a classroom, followed by a full day of hands-on practice on one fortunate participant’s residence. Approximately 15 homeowners in the town of Cataño participated in the workshop.  

David Venables, TR’s Deputy Director of Rebuild, said, the workshop is “a high impact low-cost way for all of us to help prepare local homeowners for the next storm.” Mercy Corps identified, hosted and invited the homeowners; Building Change developed the curricula and provided subject matter expert and instructor Garpard Pierristal, an engineer from Haiti; and Team Rubicon contributed the materials, technical assistance and co-instructors for the workshop.   

Pierristal said that because the houses in Puerto Rico are similar to those in Haiti, they used the same concepts that they used in Haiti to train homeowners and builders on how to make more earthquake resistant houses. “This is our first experience working with Team Rubicon and it has been a great experience,” he said, while walking around the site observing the homeowner-students as they measured, sawed and installed new wooden boards and framing. 



The training taught homeowners how to examine and assess their house’s structure to see what upgrades are needed, and it also taught them the basics of using tools—everything from screwdrivers and hammers to power tools—just in case the homeowner was unfamiliar with tools of the trade. On a lunch break during the day of building, TR’s Puerto Rico Rebuild Associate Ludgardo Gonzalez said, “Anyone could take this workshop,” regardless of knowledge and skill level. “It’s been awesome empowering people to help them fix up or update their house or existing conditions to be prepared for a next event since we can’t do new roofs for everyone,” he said.    

Team Rubicon has been rebuilding roofs in Puerto Rico since earlier this year, and from the beginning, “we made a deliberate choice to build back better,” said Venables. “As we look ahead, the expectation is that weather events like Maria will increase in frequency and intensity. Building back with storm-resistant construction methods only make sense. Workshops like these are one more way we can help homeowners better withstand the next storm.”  

Maximiliano Ramery, from Mercy Corps, expressed his delight with the whole workshop, calling the homeowners who were there to learn and then implement changes “hard workers” and he said he was “very happy working with Team Rubicon and Building Change.”   

While this was the first workshop for the Team Rubicon, Mercy Corps and Build Change  collaboration, Joe Kaye, the head of TR’s rebuilding training program, attended the two-day event to check out the curriculum, the execution and the results to determine if there are ways to deploy similar trainings in other locations in Puerto Rico and around the globe, according to Venables, as there is an enormity of need.

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