Emergency Response in Puerto Rico

Government Public Health and Private Environmental Laboratory Partnerships
Oral Presentation

Prepared by

Contact Information: mmcgarvey@pa.gov; 717-346-8618


In October 2017, at the request of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), APHL organized a team of three state government laboratories and an APHL staff member to assess Puerto Rico Department of Health Laboratories in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The goal was to assess the status of laboratory activities, including drinking water testing, prioritizing activities to restore essential testing services, and determining long-term needs. The process included meeting with the CDC Emergency Response Team deployed to Puerto Rico and the Senior Liaison Coordinator between CDC and the Puerto Rico Department of Health at the Central Emergency Operations Center.
Prior to the APHL Team assessment, the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) completed a laboratory building and air quality assessment and determined the need for generators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an assessment determining priorities to install generators to restore power. Most laboratory generators were over 30 years old and failed. FEMA generators were provided temporarily to provide power. The US EPA evaluated both public and private labs to assess needs.
The assessment process, findings, recommendations, and lessons learned will be presented. This will include the US EPA findings for private laboratories in Puerto Rico as an example of limited public laboratory resources and the partnership with private environmental testing during an emergency. Lessons learned will be discussed for when government public health/environmental laboratories do not have the capacity or capability for all required drinking water and environmental testing. It will highlight how state, county or municipal environmental and health programs rely on private laboratories, while partnering with federal, state, and local programs, to protect community environmental health.