The power of informal relationships in disaster response and readiness

Box Power at Proyecto de apoyo Mutuo Mariana in Puerto Rico

It’s no secret that our informal, personal relationships are among the most valuable resources in life and business. The same applies true in the realm of disaster response and readiness. The aid machine is a behemoth. It is an incredibly complex, nuanced, politicized ecosystem that requires expertise to navigate. The resources brought to bare in large scale disaster response operations, whether being administered by FEMA, the UN etc are exceptional. However, those resources are not always effectively stewarded, deployed and or utilized in a way that serves the impacted population in the most advantageous manner. They are often brought to play in a top-down manner that sometimes works to undercut local, more sustainable restoration efforts. That’s not to say they are not critical players, but its to suggest there may be better ways to utilize such agencies in support of local solutions.

In Puerto Rico, we have found, like we did in Haiti, the Philippines and everywhere else we have responded, that the informal networks and relationships we had and formed resulted in the most expeditious of efforts.

To highlight this in Puerto Rico:

We are long past the response and initial phase of the recovery stage after Maria. The long-term players here have started to establish themselves and an informal network of doers has started to emerge. One of these actors is Christine Nieves who is the Co-Director of the Proyecto de apoyo Mutuo Mariana. This initiative exemplifies the power and capability of the community itself to adequately handle response needs without relying on external aid. Their efforts are now directed to setting an example that can be emulated around Puerto Rico and abroad for how to future proof and make a community ready.

Christine Nieves

We received a text from Christine shown below this past Tuesday May 22nd:

The container ended up weighing around 20,000 lbs and was a Box Power solar system that puts out 17K, to power the community center the initiative is standing up in Mariana. How the solution ended up being sourced and funded by a relationship between Christine’s project and Mutual Aid Disaster Response is another example of the power of informal relationships that form between groups taking action on the ground outside the purview of the traditional aid ecosystem.

When we received the text we made a phone call to Luis Arocho, the serving CIO for Puerto Rico who had become an instrumental collaborator in our response efforts on the island. Within short order, Luis had placed a call to the fire chief in the region and a solution had been sourced to handle the unloading and positioning of the container in the mountain village.

Christine Nieves, her Co-Director talking with Luis Arocho, CIO for Puerto Rico at the Proyecto de apoyo Mutuo Mariana

There is not a lot of equipment on the island capable of lifting and moving such a heavy container in an expeditionary / remote environment. As the story was recounted to us by Christine and her team, the fire fighters, local tractor operators and the community worked for countless hours to build a makeshift road and to unload the beast of a system in an incredibly precarious, muddy and hilly area that resulted in almost losing the crane truck over the edge of the hill.

The Box Power 17K unit with battery bank and backup generator

Thus, with a quick phone call and the willingness of friends and the community to simply help one another out, a complex logistical tasking that would normally cost a good deal of money was sourced and executed at no cost. Every step of the way, from how Christine, her Co- Director and the local community work together, to Mutual Aid Disaster Response sourcing and helping to raise funds for the system in conjunction with Box Power’s own fundraising efforts, Luis’s time, and the incredible efforts on behalf of the fire department perfectly exemplify the harmonious capacity of whole community response and readiness. It is a model worth looking at and emulating. Aid does not need to be remarkably expensive, complicated and or reactionary. If proactive measures are taken, like what is happening in Mariana and communities step up and realize the capabilities and capacity they have without being dependent, the aid paradigm can be shifted from reactionary to proactive.