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  • Writer's pictureMariela Bravo

Hurricane María Damage Assessment

Hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico, through Yabucoa, on September 20, 2017 at around 6:15am, as a strong category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. It moved towards the northwest at 10 mph, inflicting upon the island extreme winds, rain accumulations of over 25 inches, flooding, storm surge and landslides. These factors, when applied to buildings, in both urban and rural areas, may have caused severe structural failure and permanent damage to infrastructure systems and changes in site configuration.

Challenges and Risks

There could be no power, no infrastructure and no telecommunications at all for the work you are about to perform. Concerns for the health, safety and welfare of your team are of utmost importance when accessing the locations to be assessed. Efficient teamwork and organization skills are put to the test under these conditions. Initial inspection reports may be done by hand and the use of computers and tablets are limited to power availability. Communication and organization skills are crucial to deliver a successful and complete damage assessment study to the Client.

Professional Development

Training your staff to execute damage assessments is a challenging task. Instead of applying our knowledge on how to build a project from the ground up, we are encountered with the task of understanding and discerning what produced a building's failure under extreme weather conditions. It is a unique experience for both licensed architects, emerging professionals and engineers on understanding how a natural disaster may impact your project and how you improve your design strategies to adapt to drastic climatic changes.

Where do you start?

Before you can evaluate what was damaged, first you need to research the Pre-Hurricane María Condition of the property, buildings, physical context and site. Any available information, such as construction documents, pictures and satellite imagery can be used to substantiate this condition. Other data that can be helpful in this stage is historical imagery - to view how the site or building has evolved - and maintenance log - to verify any equipment damage or malfunction prior to the event. Once that information is analyzed, an initial field inspection is executed to determine the extent of the damages and outline a scope of work. Visible damage will be documented, by both architects and engineers, in detailed inspection and photo reports per space and site.

Additional specialized studies may be required depending on the extent or severity of the damage, such as: environmental and air quality studies, for closed spaces exposed to moisture or dangerous substances; mechanical system studies, for air conditioning and ventilation systems; geotechnical studies and hydrological-hydraulic studies, for changes in site/land configuration and flood zones.

Recommendations and Cost Estimates

The findings of the initial stage, substantiated by the reports and documentation developed, will be used for to determine the project's overall code compliance at the time of the event and develop preliminary recommendations for repairs, mitigation or reconstruction. These recommendations will be itemized and quantified accordingly, so as to be used for the development of a detailed cost estimate. There are various cost estimate standards to be used yet it is important to note that most of these costs will increase due to the impact of Hurricane María on labor and material availability.

What's next?

For the Client, upon the development of the property's damage assessment, this information may be used for the following tasks:

  1. Negotiation with Surety

  2. Completing forms for negotiation with FEMA

  3. Request for Proposals (RFP) for Architectural/Engineering Services, for the development of construction drawings according to preliminary recommendations from damage assessment

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