64. That was the official death count shortly after Hurricane Maria struck, devastating Puerto Rico just over six months ago.
But demographer Alexis Raul Santos found evidence for hundreds more that officials had missed. To be exact, 1,085 more deaths. That they didn’t count. And that’s just from September and October alone.
That’s a huge oversight that’s not only disrespectful to Puerto Ricans — it slow recovery from future events even worse by inhibiting governments and engineers from planning for them, according to a new study.
Let’s go back to what happened with the death count numbers. It seems as though officials counted only people who died directly as a result of the high winds and immediate destruction caused by the storm, according to the New York Times. And while that might have indicated to Trump that his administration had handled the disaster well, it didn’t hold up to further assessment.
In a previous study, Santos, the director of the graduate program in applied demography at Penn State University, and his team looked at the relative amount of deaths in post-storm 2017 as compared to previous years. found a 45 percent rise in deaths that occurred in nursing homes compared to 2016, and a similar 41 percent rise in emergency room deaths. The researchers also examined specific causes of death, noting a 47 percent rise in sepsis-related deaths in September 2017 compared to September 2016.
“This is not a vanity exercise,” Santos told the New York Times in December, when Puerto Rico ordered a review of the death count. “Effective assessment of climate disasters is the only way we can prevent loss of life in future events.”
That was the subject of Santos’ most recent study, published Monday in the journal Health Affairs. In it, Santos argued that statistics may be the best weapon for residents of the island, especially when facing the federal government’s slow and inadequate disaster relief effort.
Underestimating the damage and death toll caused by a storm like Maria will not only reduce the relief response — the amount of resources, the number of people shipped out to help — but it will also mean that people might not adequately prepare for future storms.
“There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you aren’t carefully gathering and analyzing data, particularly in your ability to convey the devastation of, in this case, an environmental disaster,” said Santos. He believes that underreporting damage caused by a storm may cause those who are in a position to help, such as politicians and other officials, to lose interest.
That kind of information is especially important when you consider that Puerto Rico doesn’t have the easiest time getting interest from those in power in the first place. Because Puerto Rico is a territory, its residents have fewer rights than Americans that live in the 50 states, like not being able to vote in presidential elections.
“Statistics are the only real voice Puerto Ricans have,” Santos said in a press release. “They don’t have votes. They can’t vote for a member of Congress, or the president of the United States. Their political power is diminished, so the only way you can create an effective strategy is to use data as your main tool for discussion.”
Santo hopes that his efforts to collect and improve data that reveal the reality of life on the island will speak for itself, giving the citizens who are still affected by Hurricane Maria (yes, still) the political power they may otherwise lack.
Microgrids are helping communities in Puerto Rico get back on their feet – but smart systems and ‘energy clouds’ might also contribute to greater resilience in the wake of future extreme weather episodes. Jessica Twentyman reports.
It is five months since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, yet around one-third of the US territory’s residents – some 900,000 people – are still living without electricity.
But for pupils at S.U. Matrullas, a school located in the remote town of Orocovis in the island’s Central Mountain Range, it’s lessons as normal. That’s thanks to the donation of two smart energy-storage systems from German residential battery company, Sonnen. These are paired with a 15 kilowatt rooftop solar system provided by local renewable energy specialist, Pura Energia.
Together, these pieces of equipment form a microgrid that will provide enough energy to keep the school open and supplied with clean, renewable energy – rather than it having to rely on a noisy and far less environmentally friendly gas-fuelled generator.
A microgrid is a small local energy grid with control capabilities, based on connected sensors and other IoT technologies that enable it to operate independently of traditional grids.
The school has been completely off the main supply grids since the hurricane struck in September 2017, and was not expecting to be reconnected for many months to come. Now, school officials reckon they won’t need to reconnect with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), even once the main power supply is restored to the area.
S.U. Matrullus is the site of the ninth and tenth microgrid systems that Sonnen and Pura Energia have installed on the island since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico. Others have been installed at relief centres, food distribution centres, and community laundromats, supporting households in areas where water has been contaminated by the Leptospirosis bacteria.
According to Adam Gentner, Sonnen’s director of business development in Latin America, “These microgrids effectively form the blueprint for more than just recovery, but also for preparation for islands and regions around the world that are susceptible to natural disasters and power outages.”
This is an important point: microgrids have a potentially huge role to play, not just in recovery, but also in ongoing energy resilience. And, as seen at S.U. Matrullas, microgrids often incorporate renewable energy sources, and include battery storage, too.
As previously discussed on Internet of Business, microgrids are a huge IoT opportunity, as they’re comprised of equipment that requires sensors, connectivity, and analytics to perform at its best. The smart battery systems from Sonnen, for example, rely on a self-learning algorithm to decide when to charge and discharge the battery, based on data it processes on energy usage patterns, photovoltaic output, weather predictions, and grid tariff rates.
There is a huge opportunity for microgrids and smart systems on the storm-ravaged islands of the Caribbean, which last year had to deal with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in swift succession. Most of these islands operate an energy infrastructure based on one large generator powered by imported fossil fuels, with power transported along above-ground cables. In other words, it’s unnecessarily dirty, costly – and vulnerable.
It follows that sustainable alternatives, such as wind and solar power, could do much to increase resiliency – although it’s worth noting that several solar farms on these islands did get trashed during these storms, so a future based on solar-plus-batteries may not be enough.
But a recent report on Puerto Rico’s energy future seems to agree that microgrids have a big role to play. Prepared by more than a dozen organisations, including the island’s power authority PREPA, it calls for a decade-long plan of improvement programmes that is likely to cost somewhere in the region of $ 17 billion.
In particular, it proposes a two-pronged approach to microgrid adoption. First, critical centres vital to post-storm recovery – such as hospital, police and fire stations, emergency shelters, air and sea ports, and water treatment plants – should operate in isolation as microgrids, using technologies such as combined heat and power systems, rooftop solar, battery storage, and smart energy management systems.
Second, remote communities should have their own microgrids that enable them to operate independently – and remain disconnected – from the larger grid.
One of the contributors to the Puerto Rico report was Navigant Research, which specialises in energy market analysis. It follows microgrids closely, and last week released a report estimating that culmulative spending on microgrid-enabling technologies will reach almost $ 112 billion by 2026.
Navigant analyst Peter Asmus says, “Microgrids represent a key component of an emerging ‘energy cloud’ focused on resilience and renewable energy integration. Biomass, combined heat and power, diesel, fuel cells, hydroelectric, solar PV, and wind represent the lion’s share of potential revenue for microgrid implementation spending, and serve as the backbone of the microgrid value proposition: maximising the value of onsite power generation.”
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For the 900,000 Puerto Ricans still living without power, resilience can’t come quick enough. The use of renewables, meanwhile, would mean greater self-reliance when it comes to energy generation, allowing them to use the island’s own resources to generate the power its people need.
Smart, connected, distributed energy networks are not just a stopgap solution while traditional infrastructures are being repaired; they can be a radical, better alternative to legacy systems.
Coming soon: Our Internet of Energy event will be taking place in Berlin, Germany on 6 & 7 March 2018. Attendees will hear how companies in this sector are harnessing the power of IoT to transform distributed energy resources.
Days after the agency pledged $ 77 million to fix communications on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, newly-reconfirmed FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced the creation of the Hurricane Recovery Task Force. It's dedicated to repairing damage caused by the… Engadget RSS Feed
When Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean and the US south-east coast last month, lives were lost, homes were destroyed and vital infrastructure was critically damaged. High winds and heavy rain left approximately 13 million Florida residents without power. Although drone pilots have grown notorious for flying too close to natural disasters in the past and grounding emergency services as a result, they have been working alongside local authorities in Florida to get things back online.
A small number of drone pilots have consistently managed to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Interrupting emergency efforts to put out forest fires from California to Colorado is one obvious example. It’s bad publicity for a burgeoning industry in which regulations are evolving all the time. But there’s plenty out there that proves drones are capable of having a much more positive impact on society.
In a hurricane situation, damaged infrastructure can slow down rescue efforts and make it difficult for emergency teams to get around and communicate with each other. Getting roads open and people reconnected is always a priority.
Ryan English is co-founder and CEO of Flymotion Unmanned Systems, a drone services company based in Florida. He leads a team of pilots that has been working flat out since hurricane Irma arrived in the Sunshine State. Speaking with Internet of Business, he paints a picture confirming that drone technology has been vital to getting infrastructure back online.
“Pretty much everything in society today relies on utilities and infrastructure, from power to data to networks,” he said. “We’re a critical piece of getting those systems back online, from damage assessments to insurance inspections.”
Pre-deploying and the challenge of predicting nature
The sole advantage of being Florida-based when the storms rolled in was that the devastation didn’t come as a surprise. As the remnants of Harvey moved further inland, Irma was tracked as it grew in stature and drifted across the Atlantic. To an extent, the Flymotion team was able to predict its path and pre-deploy teams appropriately.
“This was the largest pre-deployment of UAS (Unmanned aerial systems) in response to a natural disaster, which is monumental,” said English. 22 separate Flymotion teams were deployed in locations across Florida as the state braced for impact.
But even then, the hurricane was unpredictable. “In any kind of disaster situation, you can pre-plan as much as you want but it’s an unknown situation. When Irma was on the way it was going from a category three storm to a four and a five, so the potential impact and the way it was moving was unknown.”
The use of drones allowed FLymotion’s inspection teams to work quickly and conduct more than 500 missions in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. The number is increasing daily and now stands at over 650.
Interestingly, these missions aren’t only being carried out by the rugged, weather-proof drones you might envisage. Instead, Flymotion has been utilizing DJI’s entire product catalogue, including the family-friendly drones launched by the industry’s leading manufacturer with beginners in mind.
These range from the $ 500 palm-sized Spark right up to the Hollywood-grade Inspire 2. Even DJI’s consumer-focused drones have obstacle avoidance, autonomous flight modes and high definition cameras, so this variety has allowed English and his team to be versatile and adapt to the mission at hand.
And what of the response to the aerial response? Will the reputation of drone pilots flying in disaster zones improve now that their value has been proven?
English certainly thinks so. “I think Hurricane Harvey and Irma have really changed the viewpoint in a positive way. Undoubtedly, drones expedited the recovery efforts in many ways. We’ve been able to showcase the technology and prove how well it can work.”
Speaking with Internet of Business, corporate communication director at DJI, Adam Lisberg, agreed that this was the first major disaster on US soil in which drones could be effectively deployed.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were a major turning point for how drones have been able to assist with rescue and recovery operations following a disaster,” he said. “Thanks to the increasingly wide deployment of drones around the country, as well as the Part 107 rules that allow professional drone pilots to be certified relatively easily, these were the first major disasters in America where drones could play a key role in the response.”
As highlighted by Flymotion’s ability to pre-deploy teams across the state, drones have proven to be a valuable, versatile tool that can be up in the air in no time at all. “Drones allow professionals to do their tasks safer, faster, more efficiently and at a lower cost, by providing a convenient aerial perspective and the ability to quickly gather aerial data so it can be processed and analyzed,” said Lisberg.
“In a rescue situation, they allow crews to assess damage and look for survivors from the sky far more easily than from land or water,” he added.
Aside from being the original manufacturer for the majority of aerial hardware deployed in the aftermath of hurricane Irma, DJI didn’t play a direct role in the response. Instead, the company supported its partners on the ground, and “provided equipment to nine established search-and-rescue organizations we’ve worked with before, to help them as they responded to immediate rescue and recovery needs.”
“This included almost 200 batteries, since finding reliable power sources to recharge batteries quickly became one of their top priorities. We also provided immediate technical assistance for team members who needed help keeping their drones flying in difficult conditions.”
Flymotion’s Ryan English predicts many more months of recovery efforts ahead in Florida. Just as drone deliveries are being pioneered by companies intent on flying medical supplies from one location to another, public opinion may be further swayed by their benefits in the direst of circumstances.
And those are just the major hurricanes (defined as Category 3 or above) of 2017 that have made landfall. Another major hurricane, Jose, threatened some already ravaged Caribbean islands before taking a turn to to the north. So far this year, there have been seven hurricanes in total, and 13 named storms.
If those numbers make the 2017 hurricane season seem particularly intense, that’s because it is.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization has a formal definition for an “extremely active” Atlantic hurricane season. For that to happen, storms have to generate a certain amount of accumulated cyclone energy — a measure of storm intensity, duration, and frequency. There also have to meet two out of these three conditions: 13 or more named storms, 7 or more hurricanes, and 3 or more major hurricanes.
Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University, specializes in Atlantic hurricane forecasts and tracks cyclone energy. He said on Twitter that by September 20, we’d already met the definition of “extremely active,” with enough cyclone energy and all three of the above conditions checked off.
Hurricane season isn’t over until November 30, so there’s almost certainly more to come.
So why do storms keep coming one after another?
In many ways, 2017 has had ideal conditions for a lot of big, powerful storms, several experts told Business Insider.
Two main factors have allowed these massive storms to form: the lack of an El Niño system, and the fact that the Atlantic is unusually warm.
El Niño systems generate particularly warm temperatures in the Pacific, which tends to create high wind shear in the Atlantic. James Belanger, a senior meteorological scientist with The Weather Company (the group behind the Weather Channel and Weather Underground), told Business Insider that wind shear “rips storms apart” before they develop into massive systems.
But this year, we’ve had what are referred to as “ENSO-neutral” conditions so far, meaning that there hasn’t been any El Niño or La Niña system whose wind shear could prevent hurricanes.
At the same time, the North Atlantic has been “quite warm,” Belanger said. Warm water helps storms intensify since the weather systems absorb heat energy from the water. As NASA puts it, “the more heat energy that goes in, the more vigorously a weather system can churn.”
Warm ocean temperatures in the Caribbean allowed this year’s storms to rapidly gain power. Maria, the most recent, is likely to set a record for being the most rapidly intensifying hurricane ever measured.
Two combined factors affect on Atlantic temperatures: ocean heat content (a measure of heat stored by the ocean), and sea surface temperatures (measured at the top layer of the ocean). There’s no simple explanation for this year’s high surface temperatures and ocean heat content, according to Belanger. One possibility is that weaker trade winds and wind speeds in the Atlantic have led to less evaporation, which would normally cool the ocean more.
Along with raising sea temperatures, climate change also causes sea-level rise — which makes cities more vulnerable to the storm surge that comes with hurricanes. Plus, global warming is expected to lead to a higher concentration of atmospheric water vapor and heavier rainfall. Intense rainfall can be devastating, as Harvey showed in Houston and Maria has shown in Puerto Rico.
Climate change didn’t cause any of the storms that we’ve seen this year, and we don’t yet know how the changing climate affected these specific hurricanes. But climate scientists have warned that the world could see more storms as temperatures rise. If nothing else, this season could serve as an example of what we’ll see in the future.
“There is evidence that we are emerging from an era of messy meteorological data, where we were blind to warming seas strengthening hurricanes because the really damaging ones were rare,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote for Grist. “If that’s true, weather historians may look to this year as the beginning of a frightening new phase of superstorms.”
Yet another explanation for the warmer Atlantic Ocean could be changes in high and low pressure systems that caused surface temperatures to fluctuate, according to Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist at The Weather Company. Ventrice said a current called the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) may also have played a role — that current is slow moving, and changes conditions on a 20 to 50 year scale. At the start of the 2017 season, meteorologists were unsure whether the AMO was still in a warm phase, according to NOAA. But if so, that could help explain this season’s activity as well.
A Record Breaking Year
Whatever the reason for 2017’s seemingly endless bombardment of hurricanes, we have certainly seen records get broken this year.
This is the first time in known history that the Atlantic has had two storms with 150+ mph winds raging at the same time: Irma and Jose.
Maria went from a tropical depression to a Category 5 storm in two-and-a-half days, a speed that Mark DeMaria, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, told the Washington Post is most likely the record for fastest intensification in the Atlantic.
This year we could also very likely set a record for cyclone energy generated in September, according to Phil Klotzbach.
But this season isn’t the worst we’ve ever seen, as much as it might seem that way. That distinction belongs to 2005.
That year, there were so many named storms that we ran through the whole alphabetical list of names (the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used) and then had to run through the Greek alphabet, using Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta. Fifteen storms in 2005 were hurricanes, with seven being major hurricanes.
Five storm names were retired that year because of the devastation the hurricanes caused: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan, and Wilma. We will most likely have at least three names retired after 2017: Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Based on the Atlantic hurricane activity so far this year, we’re not quite on pace to surpass 2005. But as Molly Rubin recently wrote in Quartz, if you look at both the Atlantic and Pacific simultaneously, the world is on pace for a new record number of named storms overall, outpacing 2012 and 2005.
After Maria dissipates, we’re likely to enter a quieter period in the Atlantic, according to Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground. But there’s still reason to watch for new storms developing in the Caribbean, since water temperatures remain warm.
And even if we have a quiet week or two, there’s plenty more time for storms to come. Hurricane season peaks on September 10, but the period of peak activity lasts though the middle of October. The season isn’t over until November 30.
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In the wake of natural disasters, it seems like an unofficial race begins between all the US carriers. Which among them will be the first to provide free calls or credits? With the double-whammy of Hurricane Maria and the earthquake in Mexico, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon have all released statements about how customers in affected areas can continue to access service. To make things easy, we’ve put all the statements from each of the carriers together here.
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Now that the clouds are starting to part, it’s possible to see the damage from above with satellites. The contrast before and after the storm is stark, NASA’s Earth Observatory reveals. Islands with verdant landscapes at the end of August were left brown and barren by the hurricane.
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