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Employees Helping Employees After Hurricane Maria

Posted by Battelle Insider on Oct 11, 2017

At Battelle, solving takes many forms. Researchers take great pride in solving complicated problems for our clients. But recently our problem-solving skills were used to help our employees. 

Fifteen Battelle Ecology employees work in Puerto Rico, and recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria have been extremely difficult. With no power, many cannot contact loved ones to ensure their safety, and with crippled infrastructure, transporting and distributing resources to those in need is challenging.

Battelle employees, including Kirsten Ruiz, who is the Director of Operations for Battelle Ecology in Boulder, Colorado, have made it their mission over the past two weeks to do all they can to support the employees in Puerto Rico. The experiences and relationships Kirsten has cultivated over the years positioned her well for the role of Incident Commander of the Puerto Rico recovery efforts.

“I’ve been leading our field data collection efforts for the NEON program for over seven years and have worked directly with the Puerto Rico manager and field ecologists since we opened the Puerto Rico office in early 2015,” said Kirsten.

On a good day, running operations in Puerto Rico is challenging. 

“Our field collections involve working in remote wilderness areas where natural hazards are abundant and communications are limited. Our focus on team safety and lines of communication during crises helped prepare us to have a robust response following Hurricane Maria,” said Kirsten.

Immediately following the storm, Kirsten and the team worked to locate employees using a variety of tactics. Kirsten set up a WhatsApp group on Sept. 23 and was able to receive her first communication from employees in Puerto Rico the next day. 

“Communications trickled in from one or two people for the first few days. People who had communications were providing updates on others who did not. Battelle’s security team in Columbus was also engaged in making additional resources available to check on employees we hadn’t heard from yet. Luckily, we had contact with the two remaining employees before we dispatched search teams,” said Kirsten.

Some employees who typically work in Puerto Rico were assisting with field collections in other locations when Hurricane Maria hit, and Kirsten credits them as being instrumental to the process of locating employees. One employee, Maria Viggiano, was in Massachusetts and provided cell phone numbers and last known locations for all Puerto Rico employees.

After successfully locating all 15 employees, Kirsten, Battelle Emergency Manager Ryan Cunningham and several others from across Battelle have worked tirelessly to put ideas into action.

As a result, on Oct. 4, a plane was sent to Puerto Rico to provide aid and critical resources to the affected employees.

“We take a phased approach to our response efforts. Phase one involved accounting for all employees, as well as identifying and meeting their most critical and basic needs, which we were able to execute with the plane. These needs include things like power and financial assistance. Phase two will focus on providing additional supplies to help support families and offices,” said Ryan.

The plane transported 10 generators, as well as other resources, to the employees in Puerto Rico. The team is now arranging for additional supplies to be shipped to Puerto Rico. Water, various food items, first aid supplies and safety gear are on that list.

While all employees and their families are safe, damage has significantly impacted their living conditions. Multiple employees do not have running water in their homes. 
 
“There’s a long road to recovery ahead, but we’ll continue to support these employees throughout that process,” said Ryan.

 
collage of images that include plane and trucks with supplies

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