Home > Press Releases > Puerto Rico Announces Hurricane María Committee To Improve Fatality Reporting and Accountability

November 2, 2018 – San Juan – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló today created the 9/20 Committee, a group of public health and administration specialists that will assist the government in the creation and revision of death certification protocols and improve accountability and the management of information regarding fatalities caused by natural and man-made disasters.

Hurricane Marías’ passage through the island on September 20 last year revealed the U.S. territory’s vulnerability in facing these types of disasters, especially when tallying fatalities directly and indirectly caused by the storm.

On February 22, Gov. 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. In its findings, released on August 28, the researchers observed an excess of 2,975 deaths between September and February 2018.

The newly appointed 9/20 Committee will establish protocols to implement the Milken Institute of Public Health recommendations outlined in its report.

The Committee will begin its work with a Phase 1 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.

During this initial phase, guidelines will be established for moving forward with the full Committee.

Throughout the disaster, Mr. Mercader has coordinated communications between the Puerto Rico government and federal agencies to facilitate an improved response from both the federal and local governments.

“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 Carlos Mercader.

Dr. Redlener is a renowned public health and disaster specialist and currently leads one of the country’s most important centers for disaster response and mitigation.

“The establishment of the 9/20 Committee means Puerto Rico is positioning itself to lead the way in researching and implementing new methods to standardize how short and long-term disaster-related fatalities may be most effectively tabulated. These new strategies will be valuable in any jurisdiction experiencing a major disaster”, said Dr. Redlener.

The Governor of Puerto Rico thanked Mr. Mercader and Dr. Redlener for their leadership and vision in leading this historic Committee.

“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 Governor Rosselló.

“I thank all the members of the 9/20 Committee. Their work and its implementation will be crucial both for accounting for those that perished and preparing ourselves for what the future might hold”, he concluded.

The 9/20 Committee members, as established by Executive Order, are the following:

Carlos Mercader – Executive Director, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration

Irwin Redlener – Director and Clinical Professor, Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness Director and Clinical Professor

Jeffrey Schlegelmilch – Deputy Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness Columbia University

Eric Greenberg – Chief of Staff, Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness

Carlos Santos Burgoa – Director, George Washington University’s Global Health Policy and Professor

Rafael Rodriguez – Secretary and Neurosurgeon, Puerto Rico Department of Health

Hector Pesquera – Director and former FBI agent, Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety

Carlos Acevedo – Director, Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency

Carmen Deseda – State Epidemiologist, Government of Puerto Rico

Luz Silva – Interim Director, Puerto Rico Forensics Science Bureau

Wanda Llovet – Director, Puerto Rico Demographic Registry

Jaime Plá – President, Puerto Rico Hospital Association

Victor Ramos – President, Puerto Rico Medical Surgeons Association

Dharma Vázquez, Phd – Interim Dean, University of Puerto Rico School of Public Health

Eduardo Cardona – President, Funeral Homes Association of Puerto Rico

John Mutter – Seismologist and author of “The Disaster Profiteers”

Nicolette A. Louissaint, PhD – Executive Director, Healthcare Ready

Rossy Santiago – Director, Office of Communications, Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico

Pedro Cerame – Communications Director, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration