David Myers, the DHS Director for the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives toured Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands last week to promote disaster preparedness and response. He was introduced to a community that is not only already engaged, but one that continues to both build on those initiatives and plan long-term recovery strategies.
Accompanied by the Voluntary Agency Liaison for the Caribbean Area Division Josue Diaz, Myers met with leaders of Puerto Rico’s community and faith-based organizations and discussed ways they can work together without duplicating services. They also discussed the expanding number of Long Term Recovery Groups that continue to form in Puerto Rico since a strong push for them during a recovery from severe floods in 2008.
On his visit, Myers also met with the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Mrs. Luce Vela de Fortuno. During the meeting he presented an initiative developed by Caribbean Area Division VAL Josue Diaz and Caribbean Area Division Director Alejandro DeLaCampa to urge the development of a permanent VAL position for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Such a position would allow the state to remain engaged when the FEMA VAL completes their role after a disaster declaration.
Myers also visited St. Thomas and was able to spend time with their emergency management leadership and the local Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster representatives. The entire Faith-Based and Community Initiatives team was impressed and recognized that although the individual groups around the region are working with limited resources, they were extremely active and engaged.
Barbara Lynch is an External Affairs Specialist at FEMA’s Region II in NYC