By Brigida SanchezOctober 21, 2017
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico--The Puerto Rican public school system services approximately 345,000 students. FEMA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Department of Education and local communities are working to get as many schools as possible up and running.
The Corps, by request of the DoE and FEMA, are working with a local contractor to assess as many schools as possible. These assessments require knowledge of building and construction, as well as sharp eyes.
"All of our assessors have an engineering or architectural backgrounds," notes USACE structural engineer Christopher Ryan Bamberg. "The goal of our assessments is to make sure the schools are safe for students to attend and school staff perform their typical duties. All of our assessments are visual and assess the structural safety, utility availability, proper ventilation, condition of cafeteria equipment, site safety and additional hazards that may pose a risk to students or staff."
Lack of power and water poses an issue for the teams, making it difficult to verify the functionality of air conditioning units, cafeteria exhaust fans, and food storage equipment. The availability of potable water at the school is also critical to the team's assessment summaries.
Many factors play into the status of opening a school, the tentative date being October 30, 2017, or later.
Bamberg said, "Getting the schools back open not only gets students back to school, and teachers and staff back to work, but it provides a sense of normalcy to the community and helps get people back to the way things were before the hurricane."
The Corps along with their counterparts have assessed more than 250 schools between San Juan and Mayaguez. The number of assessments continues to grow daily but will eventually taper off. There are approximately 1,100 schools in the system; Hurricane Maria destroyed 70, 190 are community centers and others continue to house thousands of people that have lost their homes.
The Corps number one priority continues to be the life, health and safety of all who were affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.