The Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust (PRSTRT) and United for Puerto Rico joined efforts to produce Conecta, a Geographical Information System (GIS) portal that lists nearly 200 non-profit organizations in Puerto Rico that provided relief and recovery services as part of the response to Hurricane María.
In the event of another disaster, the Conecta GIS website will allow relief operations to find the precise location of many of the non-profit organizations that worked on relief and recovery operations in the aftermath of Hurricane María.
“This data can help speed up disaster relief and improve the effectiveness of the response,” said Lucy Crespo, CEO of the PRSTRT. Conecta combines the expertise and knowledge of PRSTRT and United for Puerto Rico to address the need for agility in responding to disasters.
“For over a year, we had collected data on our grantees. We knew where they were, their capabilities and what they had been able to accomplish with the funds in terms of relief and recovery,” said Mariely Rivera, Executive Director of United for Puerto Rico. “We wanted to find a way to share that knowledge and the Trust had the capacity to do so.”
The opportunity to collaborate became apparent to leaders of both organizations when they worked on an earlier project. After Hurricane María, access to safe water became crucial to the health of populations particularly in mountain towns that received water from non-Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority systems (non-PRASA). Several cases of leptospirosis led the PRSTRT to create the Proyecto Agua Limpia (https://prsciencetrust.org/proyectoagualimpia/) and submit a grant proposal to United for Puerto Rico to distribute water filters that could screen for the dangerous bacteria. The PRSTRT’s Proyecto Agua Limpia distributed 34,000 water filters, which impacted 87,000 people.
An integral part of what the PRSTRT does is document and measure the effectiveness of all its programs with technology. Using technology from ESRI and Microsoft, the PRSTRT mapped each household that had received one of the water filters with the intent of following up on the program’s effectiveness. That’s when Mariely realized that technology could also be used to document and locate the work of non-profits that had received grants from United for Puerto Rico.
Seeing the benefit of the collaboration, Lucy and Mariely, in representation of their respective organizations, signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreement to create Conecta. United for Puerto Rico would provide the data and the Trust would provide the technology and its GIS expert team, led by César Piovanetti.
The website, which resides in Microsoft’s Cloud, has been designed to easily find key information on each entity from any mobile device. The information is protected by encryption and can be accessed from any part of the world. “If there were another disaster that would result in a blackout, disaster relief organizations in any part of the world could access the information and know what capabilities exist and the exact location of the organizations and their contact information,” explained César.
The information is limited to the 193 non-profit organizations that received funds from United for Puerto Rico. “These organizations demonstrated that they could support the work, whether in the distribution of food and water, providing social wellbeing, health services, economic development or repairs and reconstruction. United for Puerto Rico distributed grants to those five action areas”, said Mariely.
The benefits of Conecta, to be launched in early 2019, go beyond disaster relief. “It will allow municipalities (and others) to assess what is available in a specific region as well as what is lacking, and in on the other hand it can also serve to build capacity and resiliency,” said Lucy. It can be a powerful planning tool in her esteem.
“This is part of the legacy of United for Puerto Rico’s work, we now know who can do what and where and we know they have the experience of delivering the aid,” said Mariely. It is another key piece in rebuilding Puerto Rico, she added.