Puerto Rico: A Problem Like Maria

I guess we should take a look at the relief effort in Puerto Rico. They are, after all, Americans, just like us Nebraskans. The thing is, it has become so politicized that one hesitates to talk about it. Both the President and his Twitter account and the Democrats need to shut up and get to work. All this noise is doing more harm than good.

Things are getting done, slowly, near as I can tell. Both the ARRL and the Salvation Army have called for Amateur (Ham) radio operators to help restore communications, and are getting a pretty good response, as they always do.

The way Hurricane Maria blew through the island is in many respects the equivalent of the EMP explosion from the NORKs (or others) that we have talked about here in the effects on the US of the destruction of the power grid. That is what happened on Puerto Rico, except that the computers running it may or may not have been but the physical grid was. That is going to take time (and money) to repair. Meantime, without power, there are no communications either. The landlines are fairly obvious, the same things affect them as the power lines. But even cellphones are no good when the towers have no power for a time, and when their battery’s are dead. That’s why the Hams, most of us have portable stations that (at least on low power) can be run on solar, or bicycle chargers or whatnot. Yes, some of it is a rather old model of communications, but not all, we work with almost all forms of emissions that are in commercial service. In fact, Hams developed many of them.

Water distribution has the same problem, you need electricity to pump water, other than diesel, there is no alternative, and I suspect a lot of power in Puerto Rico is diesel powered anyway.

The power grid on the island has been reported as decrepit for many years, and that is part of the reason for the utter destruction. The LA Times tells us:

Puerto Rico officials say it will likely be four to six months before power is fully restored across the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people. The island’s faltering electrical grid, now crippled by the twin blows of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, already was struggling to keep the lights on after a history of poor maintenance, poorly trained staff, allegations of corruption and crushing debt.

As recently as 2016, the island suffered a three-day, island-wide blackout as a result of a fire. A private energy consultant noted then that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority “appears to be running on fumes, and … desperately requires an infusion of capital — monetary, human and intellectual — to restore a functional utility.”

Puerto Ricans in early 2016 were suffering power outages at rates four to five times higher than average U.S. customers, said the report from the Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics.

And then came Maria.

The collapse of the power system has tumbled down the infrastructure chain, making it difficult to pump water supplies — the water authority is one of the power authority’s biggest clients — and also to operate the cellular phone system, which also relies on the power grid.

Residents have been scrounging for scarce fuel to power generators long enough to keep refrigerators and a light or two running. At night, many drag mattresses out to balconies and porches to escape the heat. Hospitals have seen life support systems fail and most business has come to a halt.

Funny how that works, but not funny ‘Ha Ha”. Electricity is quite literally the lifeblood of modern life, without it, we go back a hundred years minimum. That’s why these crackpot renewable energy schemes are so dangerous.

But part of that is also that the island is corrupt, and has been for a long time. From The New York Post:

Jorge Rodriguez, 49, is the Harvard-educated CEO of PACIV, an international engineering firm based in Puerto Rico

For the last 30 years, the Puerto Rican government has been completely inept at handling regular societal needs, so I just don’t see it functioning in a crisis like this one. Even before the hurricane hit, water and power systems were already broken. And our $118 billion debt crisis is a result of government corruption and mismanagement.

The governor Ricardo Rossello has little experience. He’s 36 and never really held a job and never dealt with a budget. His entire administration is totally inexperienced and they have no clue how to handle a crisis of this magnitude.

For instance, shortly after the hurricane hit, the government imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am and then changed it. Now, it’s 7 pm to 5 am, and makes no sense. The curfew has prevented fuel trucks from transporting their loads. These trucks should have been allowed to run for 24 hours to address our needs, but they have been stalled, and so we have massive lines at gas stations and severe shortages of diesel at our hospitals and supermarkets.

I’m really tired of Puerto Rican government officials blaming the federal government for their woes and for not acting fast enough to help people on the island. Last week I had three federal agents in my office and I was so embarrassed; I went out of my way to apologize to them for the attitude of my government and what they have been saying about the US response. When the hurricane hit we had experts from FEMA from all over the US on the ground and I was really proud of their quick response. The first responders and FEMA have all been outstanding in this crisis, and should be supported.

Well, I’m not sure what the cure is for that. We get the government we vote for, and the Puerto Ricans voted for these people. Still, they do appear to be doing their best, but it is not, and never has been, good enough. But even The National Guard can’t show up. From Deanna Fisher at Victory Girls Blog.

Click to enlarge

It’s so bad that not even their National Guard can show up for duty.

But nine days after Hurricane Maria, a striking trend has emerged: Less than half of the 8,000 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard are on duty. Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top U.S. officer overseeing military operations on the island, attributed this to a combination of factors. Many personnel are dealing with the devastation in their own lives, he said, and some are providing help in their full-time jobs as police, firefighters or other first responders rather than through the Guard.

The comparatively small number of Guard troops on duty in Puerto Rico appears to underscore a disconnect between pleas made on the ground by civilians on the ground since the storm, and the federal government’s relatively modest response at first. It also may have slowed awareness of how bad the destruction was, with fewer personnel responding early and cataloguing needs. […]

And the problem is not that the supplies aren’t present – as you can clearly see behind the mayor. The problem is getting the supplies where they need to be.

Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground. “I have family here. My parents’ home is here. My uncles, aunts, cousins, are all here. As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.”

“The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help; moving those supplies, in particular, fuel, is the issue right now,” says Col. Valle. Until power can be restored, generators are critical for hospitals and shelter facilities and more. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t get the fuel to run the generators.

They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.

“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” says Col. Valle.

Eventually,  it will work out, but not without a lot of angst and pain for all concerned, both aid givers, and aided. The real question is, will Puerto Rico learn from the disaster, as we all learned from Katrina, or simply keep on with same old, same old, and we have to do it all again in 5, 20, or 50 years. That’s their part of the story.

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Hurricane Interlude: HMS Pinafore

English: A lithographic poster for one of the ...

English: A lithographic poster for one of the many American productions of H.M.S. Pinafore, mostly unlicenced. Français : Affiche lithographique pour l’une des nombreuses mises en scènes de l’opérette H.M.S. Pinafore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look, I’m a realist, and if you’re spending time online today, you’re mostly reading about the hurricane in Florida. In truth, so am I, and I have little to contribute to that. No doubt, we’ll talk about it soon. But right now, I have little to contribute. But we have been seeing already stories about the Royal Navy (and Air Force) and their relief efforts, and soon the United States Navy will also be involved. But if you’ve a little time, perhaps a little classical nonsense, referred to by Bart Simpson, Captain Picard, and Indiana Jones. In other words, the operetta that made Gilbert and Sullivan a watchword, not only in England ( although he certainly was an Englishman) but also in America. First published on 9 August 20015. Enjoy, it’s been one of my greatest pleasures all my life.

I’m in the mood to mostly screw off today, so here’s an old friend, for your (and my) enjoyment.

There’s no deep message intended here, it’s Saturday, and time to wind down from another week. Cause we ain’t gonna fix it before Monday, anyway. So sit back and enjoy some of the first (semi) serious music that I fell in love with as a kid. The old Golden Records survey of music opened a lot of doors for me, and this is one of them.

From the 2005 Proms: HMS Pinafore

Any resemblance to the US Government is (I hope) coincidental,

but I wouldn’t bet much on it.

Hurricane Season

Untoward brilliance from the Washington Post

Well, no kidding? Seems to me that it always does, always has, and always will. Why? Because the poor have fewer assets, not to mention less ability to run away.

But the remarkable thing about Harvey (apart from the way it stopped over Houston and unloaded however many trillions of gallons of water it did) was that for such a huge storm, and one so severe, was simply how low the death count was, especially in America’s fourth largest city. Steven Hayward has some good thoughts.

One of the remarkable things about this extraordinary catastrophe is how low the death toll has been—less than a dozen. A flood of this magnitude in the developing world usually kills tens of thousands. The 1900 Galveston hurricane killed over 6,000 people; adjusted for population change in the region, that would probably be something like 100,000 today.

It is not individual wealth that has made the difference, though as with all things individuals with more assets are always able to survive and recover from disasters better. It is the collective wealth—both social and material—of our society that has kept the death toll from Harvey at an astonishing minimum. (Our social capital may be more important than assets in the bank at moments like these, as we’ve seen with the remarkable scenes of spontaneous self-help going on in Houston.)

One other remarkable thing. I spoke yesterday with a former high ranking public official from Texas who points out the following: While 10 million people live in the coastal areas hit by the brunt of the storm, only 300,000 lost electricity. The resiliency of the Texas grid has been remarkable. Partly that is the result of Texas deregulating its electricity market much more seriously than any other state, and investing well over $10 billion over the last 15 years to upgrade its transmission infrastructure.

That last paragraph caught my eye, which won’t surprise you, given my background. The 6 P’s come to mind (prior planning prevents p*ss poor performance) as always, and nobody does it better than people spending their own money, like the power companies in Texas. But you know I think I heard last night that more people have already lost their electricity in Peurto Rico with its sole provider PREPO, which is involved in the island’s financial mess, which led to the 2015 passage of PROMESA. I don’t know enough to have a valid opinion but suspect a goodly portion of the Authority is politically (and not conservative) driven. It just, on first acquaintance, smells like that to me.

One of the reasons the storms aren’t so deadly anymore is the amount of money the US has spent and still does, on forecasting. We’ve gotten a huge return on our tax dollars in this area and still do. It’s remarkable really, I’ve been watching the UK’s Sky News this week, and their coverage of Irma, while extensive, always returns to American expertise. Of course, that is natural, Britain gets few hurricanes, and we get quite a few, and it’s easy enough for us to provide warnings to the few British possessions left in the area, not to mention that I’ll bet Cuba (whatever the politics) does as well. As it should be, in protecting ourselves we also protect others.

But Steve is right, the material wealth of Houstonians mattered, but not as much as their willingness, regardless of any other factors to help one another out. Maybe its a function of people who are confident that they will find another meal, or maybe it’s one of America’s heritages, might even have to do with America being more Christian than most places anymore, likely all of those things and more, but it is one of the things that makes America so resilient, that things that almost destroy other societies while a challenge here, there is almost never any doubt that the town, city, state, whatever will be back stronger than ever.

And believing it, it becomes so. In the end, it is a matter of confidence and a hallmark of America. Our heritage comes from many sources, but one of them is that old Irish proverb…

The first duty of the strong is to protect the week.

We saw it in Houston in the last fortnight, and we’ll see it expand with Irma, into the Carribean and perhaps Florida. Not only do we take care of our own, we take care of pretty much anybody who runs afoul of things beyond man’s control.

If you are anywhere close to Irma, keep your head up and your butt down, or better yet, get out of her way.

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