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Hurricane Maria Panel Discussion Convenes Diverse Experts; Raises Money for Charity

The discussion was part of the New York State Writers Institute’s spring lineup

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 31, 2019) – A panel discussion led by the New York State Writers Institute Monday night not only facilitated a lively conversation on what can be learned from the emergency response to Hurricane Maria, but also generated hundreds of dollars for Puerto Rican relief efforts in the process.

The discussion, entitled “The Lessons of Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico: The Hurricane, the Response, Preparing for Disasters,” ran for roughly two hours in front of a packed house at Page Hall on UAlbany’s Downtown Campus. It featured experts from diverse fields – including President Havidán Rodríguez and deans David Holtgrave and Robert Griffin.

Nearly $800 was collected during the event – which was free and open to the public – as donations for Puerto Rican non-profits: The Mayaguezana Association of People with Disabilities (AMPI, Inc.) and Relief4PR.

Lessons for the Future

When Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico in September 2017, it brought the destructive force of a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The storm destroyed the island’s power grid and its agriculture industries, leaving behind a shattered infrastructure, crippled economy and numerous ongoing public health emergencies.

President Rodríguez, who is a native of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and an expert on the socioeconomic impacts of disasters, opened Monday’s discussion by acknowledging that that the island was in the midst of a humanitarian crisis even before Hurricane Maria made its impact.

President Rodríguez (left) and New York State Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl ’84 hold a donation jar that was passed up and down the rows of Page Hall during Monday night’s Hurricane Maria panel discussion.
President Rodríguez (left) and New York State Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl ’84 hold a donation jar that was passed up and down the rows of Page Hall during Monday night’s Hurricane Maria panel discussion. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

“The storm in Puerto Rico had been brewing for decades as a consequence of very high levels of unemployment and poverty, government debt defaults, a deteriorating healthcare infrastructure and a massive migration from the island to the mainland, among other factors,” Rodríguez said.

He went on to credit the volunteers – including more than 100 from UAlbany involved with Gov. Cuomo’s “NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative” and the SUNY Puerto Rico Task Force – as instrumental in helping to restore the island and shape its future.

“The future of Puerto Rico remains to be determined,” Rodríguez said. “The social and economic impact of Hurricane Maria, combined with preexisting conditions, will continue to have significant and long-term ramifications on the island and its inhabitants into the foreseeable future. But the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people and the massive outpouring of support is promising.”

A Distinguished Group

The night concluded with a panel discussion moderated by School of Public Health Dean David Holtgrave. On the panel was President Rodríguez, along with College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity Dean Robert Griffin and three other experts:

  • Michelle Centeno, president of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women (NACOPRW), and senior labor policy advisor for the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).
  • Shao Lin, professor of environmental health science, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Public Health.
  • Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and creator of public health initiatives in the U.S. Gulf region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The discussion was guided by questions from the audience.

“Disaster response is interdisciplinary by nature, which makes discussions like this critical to better understand the complex mechanisms of previous responses and develop tactics to enhance sustainable solutions for the future,” said Holtgrave. “We must prepare and train public health workers – and professionals in other disciplines – to recognize how they can contribute, as effective and timely responses can reduce the public health crisis often caused by natural disasters.”

In a pre-event interview with WAMC Radio, Dean Griffin added that the discussion was “an opportunity for the audience to think about how they can personally support efforts in Puerto Rico, and equally important, to think about how we can move forward as a community, state and nation in supporting others when they are in [crisis] situations.”

Monday’s event was part of the Writers Institute’s spring 2019 lineup and co-sponsored by the University’s Journalism program.

To make a contribution for Hurricane Maria relief efforts, please visit

Photos: Patrick Dodson

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