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IBM-Bechtel Partnership Applies SDGs to Help Puerto Rico's Schools Post-Maria


Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico in a matter of days, but the lives of the island’s people were changed forever as they now continue to rebuild amidst another hurricane season. The U.S. territory was partially underwater and completely without power following the storm -- and the island’s schools were no different.

Recognizing just how important education and schools are to a community, IBM and Bechtel came together to aid the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) in its recovery. But before anything could be done, IBM, Bechtel and the PRDE first needed to come up with a plan.

By harnessing expertise in planning, technology and development, IBM and Bechtel helped to do just that -- mapping their work to SDG 11 along the way to craft an emergency management and resilience plan that fit the PRDE’s specific needs.

Speaking during a 3BL webinar titled “Responding to Disaster: IBM and Bechtel Partner to Address Resiliency,”Julia Keleher, secretary of the PRDE, and corporate citizenship leaders from IBM and Bechtel explained how the three organizations helped Puerto Rico’s schools to get back on their feet.

“Having help to navigate a path forward was critically helpful because we had a lot of people, even our own employees, who were displaced; and food, water and medical supplies were unavailable,” Keleher said. “What is largely traumatic for everyone is that the hurricane season is upon us again, and we’re not where we were on Sept. 19 [when] that infrastructure wasn’t even great to begin with.”

To come up with the best strategy, IBM and Bechtel first turned to the U.N. Disaster Resilience Scorecard, a list of 10 essential steps that should be followed to effectively assess a city’s resiliency. To better fit the needs of the PRDE, IBM adapted the 10 steps to work with education departments rather than municipalities.

The results led to a “roadmap” tailored to the PRDE with ten “wins” that could be achieved in order to begin recovery in conjunction with the Scorecard, explained Jurij Paraszczak, director of IBM Industry Solutions and leader of the Global Research Smarter Cities program.

As a method of prioritizing actions and sequencing them, IBM, Bechtel and the PRDE created an executive grid to weigh a priority’s “impact/benefits” with its “difficulty.” When put into practice, an issue with low difficulty and a high impact would receive priority over one with a high impact but high difficulty.

“One of the things that struck me and my colleagues as we drove around on mountain roads was the emotional power of people who wanted to get things done,” Paraszczak said. “That was a strength in itself, but it was also something that caused a weakness resulting from the fact that the organizational structure was built in such a way that a lot of groups trying to fix things on the ground were not connected in a strategic way up to the top.”

The road to recovery is a long one for Puerto Rico, but the process becomes easier with the help of solution-driven companies like IBM and Bechtel combining resources for the common good. As the two continue to contribute to disaster relief, the hope is the benefits of comprehensive planning will not only help areas susceptible to natural disasters today -- but also prepare them for the future.

Rebecca Curzon, senior program manager of Global Citizenship Initiatives for IBM Corporate Citizenship, explained that resiliency goes beyond natural disaster preparation. Rather, it is a way of bringing people and communities together by fostering a feeling of “opportunity” and “empowerment to act.”

“Something as fundamental as standard operating procedures, even in a desperate situation, provide something to do and a way to do it that has been proven, documented and agreed to, so at least there’s a sense of forward progress that can be made,” Curzon explained. “I have faith that that will happen here [in Puerto Rico].”

Photo: 3BL Media