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Puerto Rico governor creates new committee to improve fatality reporting after natural disasters

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
November 02, 2018, 2:31:41 PM EDT

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló issued an executive order on Friday that established the creation of a panel called the 9/20 Committee, which will establish protocols to improve the ways deaths related to natural disasters are reported.

The committee consists of public health and administration specialists that will assist the government by creating and revising death certification protocols as well as improving accountability and the management of information regarding fatalities caused by natural and man-made disasters, according to a press release.

Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. For months after the storm, government officials listed the death at 64. However, several different reports and independent studies showed that the number of storm-related deaths was likely much higher.

In late May, a study conducted by scientists from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, concluded that between Sept. 20 and Dec. 31, 2017, there were 4,645 "excess deaths."

puerto rico commission

In this Sept. 8, 2018 photo, a home that was abandoned after Hurricane Maria hit one year ago stands full of furniture in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

On Feb. 22, 2018, Rosselló commissioned a study by the George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health to assess mortality related either directly or indirectly to Hurricane María.

The George Washington report was published on Aug. 28, and it estimated that there were 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico. It also recommended several guidelines that the newly-formed committee will implement.

The committee's first actions will consist of a planning period co-chaired by Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico government’s Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), and Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Disaster and Preparedness Response Center (NDPRC) at Columbia University. The purpose of the first phase is to establish guidelines that the full committee will follow.

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“The George Washington University’s excess mortality study was a novel approach at tabulating death tolls, not just in Puerto Rico but worldwide. It is our intention that this committee serve as a model for the whole of the United States so that we can more adequately assess mortality but more importantly, avoid the loss of life during and after both natural and man-made disasters,” said Mercader.

“As we begin the long-term reconstruction of our island, we are committed to building a safer, more resilient Puerto Rico. This committee will play a key role in the future of Puerto Rico, as it will establish the appropriate protocols and guidelines so that we are better prepared in the face of a disaster such as Hurricane María,” said Rosselló.

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