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Research Questions

  1. What challenges and stressors did Puerto Rico face prior to the 2017 hurricane season?
  2. What damage did the 2017 hurricanes, especially Hurricane Maria, cause? What happened in their aftermath?
  3. How did these hurricanes exacerbate predisaster challenges and stressors? How did those challenges and stressors exacerbate the effects of the hurricanes?
  4. What are the remaining needs to address when developing short- and longer-term recovery priorities?
  5. How can Puerto Rico improve its resilience in the face of future challenges?

To establish an evidence-based foundation for the congressionally required short- and long-term recovery and resilience plan for Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricanes, the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center assessed the damage from the 2017 hurricane season and remaining needs across the commonwealth in collaboration with federal agencies, the government of Puerto Rico, and other stakeholders. The experts examined what happened during and after Hurricanes Irma and Maria but also how the effects of the hurricanes exacerbated and were exacerbated by predisaster challenges and stressors.

This report provides a comprehensive summary of the commonwealth's challenges and status before and after the storms hit, including their effects on Puerto Rico's people and communities; economy; built and natural environments; and education, health, and social services.

Before the hurricanes, Puerto Rico faced an economic crisis, a shrinking, aging population, substandard public education, poverty, poor housing stock, governance challenges, neglect of infrastructure and resources, and environmental degradation. Hurricane Maria's direct and devastating landfall on Puerto Rico in September 2017 only exacerbated these challenges.

The research team identified short- and longer-term needs for Puerto Rico's recovery and resilience. In the short term, Puerto Rico needs to repair damaged critical infrastructure; improve governance and fiscal accountability; update emergency-preparedness plans; clearly delineate responsibility for infrastructure, assets, and services; and repair damaged and destroyed homes. In the longer term, Puerto Rico will need to systematically address its economic challenges; scale its social services and infrastructure systems for current and future populations; reinforce its infrastructure against natural hazards and build it to modern standards; reduce building-permit and code-enforcement breaches; report timely and accurate data on its economic and fiscal status; and gather further knowledge to inform long-term resilience decisions.

Key Findings

Puerto Rico faced extensive and deep-rooted stressors prior to the 2017 hurricane season

  • Puerto Rico experienced a decade of economic decline and a debt crisis prior to the hurricanes, which contributed to a lack of investment in its physical and natural infrastructure.
  • Increasing migration of young people and working-age adults away from Puerto Rico and a declining birth rate have led to a population downturn.
  • An increasing share of Puerto Rico's remaining population has faced poverty or other social challenges.
  • Puerto Rico has struggled to provide effective and transparent governance for its residents.

Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage to Puerto Rico's lifeline infrastructure systems and housing

  • Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the commonwealth's electricity grid. It took more than 200 days to restore power to all Puerto Rico residents.
  • Approximately 90 percent of households applied for postdisaster assistance, with initial estimates of housing damage ranging from $14.1 billion to $18.3 billion.

Prehurricane conditions and damage to lifeline infrastructure affected response and recovery in every sector

  • The lack of electricity meant that even facilities that the hurricanes did not damage directly were still inoperable.
  • Failure of communication infrastructure delayed critical emergency services and hindered emergency coordination between agencies.
  • Puerto Rico's debt crisis hindered initial damage assessments, inspections, repairs, and recovery.
  • Many assets showed adverse impacts from aging even before the storms, which made prioritizing repair difficult.
  • Debris in roadways made initial damage assessments difficult. It limited transport of fuel supplies for weeks. People could not access physical or mental health care.


  • In the short term (within two years of publishing the recovery plan), Puerto Rico needs to address remaining cross-sectoral recovery priorities: Complete damage and needs assessments that remain incomplete, repair critical infrastructure that remains nonfunctioning or in disrepair, promote efforts to improve governance and fiscal accountability, update emergency-preparedness plans, clearly establish responsibility for infrastructure assets and services, and repair homes that remain damaged or destroyed.
  • In the longer term (the next decade or so), Puerto Rico will need to focus on key resilience challenges: Address economic conditions that precipitated population loss, worsened storm damage, and currently inhibit recovery; pursue municipal priorities for economic development and recovery; scale housing, social service, health, education, and infrastructure systems for current and future populations; reduce the vulnerability of infrastructure in Puerto Rico to natural hazards and build it to 21st-century standards; address building-permit and code-enforcement gaps that reduce the effectiveness of Puerto Rico's utilities and perpetuate activity in the informal sector; and report timely and accurate data on the commonwealth's economic and fiscal status.

This research was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and conducted by the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program within Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.