Cover: Public Buildings in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

Public Buildings in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

Prestorm Challenges, Hurricane Damage, and Suggested Courses of Action for Recovery

Published Sep 30, 2020

by Tom LaTourrette, Benjamin M. Miller, Teddy Ulin, Kristin Van Abel, Krista Langeland, Nupur Nanda


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Research Questions

  1. What was the damage to public buildings in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Irma and Maria?
  2. What can be done to repair and reconstruct public buildings in Puerto Rico?
  3. How can these public buildings be realigned and repurposed such that they will withstand future storms, be more accessible to the public, and use space more efficiently?
  4. How can policy development and data collection be used to improve public buildings going forward?

The government of Puerto Rico submitted an economic and disaster recovery plan to Congress on August 8, 2018, describing a strategic approach to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, build resilience to withstand future disasters, and restore the struggling economy. The Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC, a federally funded research and development center operated by the RAND Corporation under contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) provided substantial input for the plan by engaging with numerous stakeholders, conducting analyses, assessing damage and needs, deducing courses of action and costs, and identifying possible funding mechanisms. Acting in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) public building sector and the government of Puerto Rico, the HSOAC team compiled data from multiple sources on public building damage, analyzed the data, and identified gaps in the data for some public buildings. Additional analyses assessed recent changes in population and employment that might affect building use and needs. These analyses, coupled with discussions with FEMA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and government of Puerto Rico agencies, informed the development of 12 courses of action represented in the recovery plan for the public building sector. These courses of action embody the public building sector vision of reinvesting in public building infrastructure not only to repair the damage caused by the 2017 hurricanes but also to modernize this infrastructure to increase resilience to natural hazards, improve energy efficiency, and improve functionality and user experience.

Key Findings

  • Information about the inventory and characteristics of public buildings in Puerto Rico, such as owners, conditions, and vulnerability to hazards, is sorely lacking, creating challenges for planning and recovery.
  • Recovery of the public building sector requires the involvement of building users and building owners, who often have little association with each other.
  • Data on the extent of hurricane damage and functional impairment to public buildings in Puerto Rico are incomplete, making it difficult to estimate the required scale of recovery efforts.
  • Long-term trends such as increasing vulnerability to hazards, deferred maintenance, changes in population and employment and evolving service needs and delivery approaches influence public building requirements and recovery needs.


  • Compile a public building inventory.
  • Right-size public buildings.
  • Establish integrated services centers.
  • Realign public building ownership.
  • Move public services to public buildings.
  • Study whether externalizing the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company would improve its ability to support economic development.
  • Refurbish community centers and community technology centers.
  • Mitigate flood risk for critical government functions.
  • Repair all essential public buildings damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Incentivize state-of-the-art building design, practices, and technologies.
  • Bring public buildings up to code.
  • Develop secondary power guidelines.

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.