Kickoff to Hurricane Season 2020: An update on the mitigation efforts in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Episode #4

Puerto Rico was devastated in 2017 by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which left behind billions of dollars in damages. In this episode, we’ll hear from the lead of FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team for the 2017 storms and have an update on the island’s current mitigation efforts from the previous State Hazard Mitigation Officer for Puerto Rico.

The Building Science Branch of FEMA's Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) oversees the Mitigation Assessment Team project to support the identification of mitigation requirements after a major disaster. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the Mitigation Assessment Team, led by our first guest Stuart Adams, identified several key mitigation needs for Puerto Rico, including adopting an updated building code. The key to any successful mitigation program is ensuring recommendations are implemented by state and local communities. Our second guest in this episode, Tidal Basin’s Senior Director of Recovery Jose Valenzuela, will share how Puerto Rico implemented FEMA’s mitigation recommendations from the 2017 Mitigation Assessment Team report.

Key Takeaways

  • [00:10] Intro of Guest 1, Stuart Adams
  • [01:15] Lets begin with your background and how you became involved with the Mitigation Assessment Team program.
  • [01:50] How does the Mitigation Assessment Team process work, when does a team go in after a disaster?
  • [02:50] 1989 was a bad year for Puerto Rico with Hurricane Hugo. Were you able to reference the mitigation efforts from that storm?
  • [05:58] Would you say your major recommendation from your report was a need to adopt a new building code?
  • [08:38] This podcast is for the emergency management community, but would you say mitigation really needs to be a focus of elected officials in order to be successful?
  • [10:30] What are the top mitigation considerations you would recommend to State Hazard Mitigation Officers?
  • [13:03] Introduction of Guest 2 Jose Valenzuela
  • [13:30] From your standpoint in your previous role as Puerto Rico’s State Mitigation Officer – what advice would you give to other SHMOs in preparing for the Mitigation Assessment Team process?
  • [15:15] Of that report that Stuart Adams and his team put together, what were the key recommendations?
  • [18:13] Our last guest shared the need for stronger building codes for higher elevations of Puerto Rico. Where would you say the island is now in implementing all of the recommendations from the 2017 Mitigation Assessment Team report?
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Stuart Adams
Stuart Adams

Stuart is a project manager and structural engineer with expertise in wind, flood, and seismic mitigation. He serves as a program area manager to the building science branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He’s also a technical resource for community resilience to federal, state, and local clients.

Stuart is an active member of several organizations related to resilience including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Community Resilience Panel, and FEMA Building Science Working Group. As a member of the Technical Committee on Resilience and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), Stuart collaborates with peers to seek innovative and effective methods to advance Stantec services. He’s an IBHS Fortified plan reviewer, a certified floodplain manager, and a published author with credits in several peer-reviewed publications.

Jose Valenzuela FocusFillWzMzMCw0MTAsZmFsc2UsMF0
José L. Valenzuela
Sr. Director of Mitigation
Tidal Basin

Mr. José L. Valenzuela currently serves as the Senior Director of Mitigation for Tidal Basin. Prior to his Tidal Basin tenure, Mr. Valenzuela was appointed as the State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) for Puerto Rico in November 2017, after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island. As the SHMO, Mr. Valenzuela oversaw the biggest HMGP award by FEMA, $2.9 billion, and was responsible for the biggest code enforcement mitigation grant awarded by FEMA, $144 million. Mr. Valenzuela led the mitigation team that developed a comprehensive mitigation grant program and initiated an extensive standardization and update process for 78 local mitigation plans. Also as the SHMO, Mr. Valenzuela coordinated all efforts related to risk reduction, such as the FEMA MAT report for hurricanes Irma and Maria, the adoption of the ABFEs and the 2018 ICC Building Codes, among others. This effort has been recognized with the Community Service Award 2019 by the International Code Council.

Mr. Valenzuela has over 20 years of experience in the areas of government, public policy, planning, regulations, floodplain management, grants management, environmental risk management, among others.

Previously, Mr. Valenzuela was appointed in January 2017 as an Associate Member and Vice President of the Puerto Rico Planning Board, the agency that manages the NFIP, the land use regulations and planning for the island. He has been appointed by the Director of the PR Permits Management Office as an Associate Member of the Adjudicative Board, which is responsible for the evaluation and determination of all discretionary permit applications.